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Football: North's season ends with second-round loss to McEachern
North Forsyth's Nicky Dalmolin stiff-arms a McEachern defender on Friday, Nov. 22, 2019 at McEachern High School in Powder Springs. - photo by David Almeda

POWDER SPRINGS — There was a nugget of hope, at least for a few fleeting moments.

North Forsyth’s football team was facing a McEachern squad that boasted top-flight Division I talent all over the field on Friday night. The Raider defense was playing decently well and periodically getting the Indians’ offense off the field, but North’s offense was struggling and the Raiders still trailed by 20.

North Forsyth's Miles Hartsfield (14) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against McEachern on Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. - photo by David Almeda
But with 6:45 left in the first half, North senior Miles Hartsfield instantly changed the game’s complexion by taking advantage of a rare McEachern mistake, jumping in front of a Carlos Del Rio pass for a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown. All of a sudden, with halftime nearing, the Raiders were down just two scores.

That play fueled momentum for North’s defense, which forced a three-and-out on the Indians’ ensuing possession. But in the end, that unit couldn’t do everything, and with their offense under constant duress from McEachern’s defensive line, the Raiders fell 42-14 to end their season in the second round.

“The whole time, they played really hard,” North head coach Robert Craft said. “I just told the seniors about how proud I was of them. They came in with me four years ago, and they're leaving this program so much better than where they found it. That's the biggest thing for them.”

The defense immediately showed their mettle early, getting a three-and-out stop to open the game. On the Indians’ second possession, though, running back Jordon Simmons, a Michigan State commit, ran into the end zone untouched on fourth down, leading to a 6-0 McEachern lead after a failed two-point attempt.

Raiders quarterback Brady Meitz struggled to stay upright all night. With just over three minutes left in the first quarter, he was sacked, and one play later, Del Rio, who is committed to Florida, ran in for a 24-yard score.

And with 16 seconds left in the first quarter, Meitz threw his first of two interceptions, with the Indians’ Jamari Bellamy evading multiple tackles down the sideline for a pick-six that made it 20-0.

“Not many people have scored points on them,” Craft said. “There's a reason why. You just can't make mistakes against a good team like that.”

After Hartsfield’s interception return, McEachern continued to pile on the points. Simmons broke through a pile for a 54-yard score to put the Indians up 27-7 at halftime, and in the second half, Del Rio and fellow quarterback Bryce Archie ran and passed for a touchdown each to keep increasing McEachern’s lead.

North quarterback Brady Meitz attempts to get a pass off while under pressure from McEachern defenders on Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. - photo by David Almeda
Understandably, North was not shy about rolling the dice on fourth down. They found some success doing so, with Nicky Dalmolin making some catches and Meitz finding a few open lanes to run in those situations.

“The loser goes home, so you don't want to leave anything unturned,” Craft said. “I thought our defense was playing really good, so I thought we had some chances to take some chances like that. We just wanted to give our guys a chance, and I thought we did that.”

Meitz scored North’s only offensive touchdown of the game with 1:34 left to play, diving for the right pylon after an 11-yard scramble.

For Craft, saying goodbye to this group of seniors is especially significant to him. They were freshmen when he was hired to lead the Raiders back in 2015. He’ll definitely have some pieces to reload with next year, but it’s still a group that he won’t ever forget.

“It's a great senior class,” Craft said. “I just finished telling Nicky, I haven't coached a game at North without him on the field, really. So it's going to be a new experience. This is a senior class that's going to be well remembered.”