In North Forsyth’s Corky Kell Classic debut, the Raiders led for basically 43 of 48 minutes in a gut-wrenching 31-27 loss to North Atlanta Thursday at West Forsyth.
After scoring a touchdown four minutes into the game, North Forsyth didn’t relinquish the lead — although the teams traded scores for much of the contest — until there were 63 seconds remaining.
The Raiders had one final chance, with good field position after the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds. However, North Forsyth went four-and-out to suffer the season-opening defeat.
“I’m so proud of our guys for how hard they played,” Raiders head coach Robert Craft said. “It was a great high school game. We just have to get better ourselves. We have to tackle better, and we have to hold onto the football.”
Collin Miller scored the opening touchdown for North Forsyth out of the Wildcat formation. The senior, who is more known for his exploits at linebacker, found the end zone twice more for the Raiders on short runs. Miller finished with 42 yards rushing on a dozen carries, including a pair of fourth-down conversions.
His second 3-yarder gave North Forsyth a 14-6 advantage late in the first quarter. His third touchdown — this one from 8 yards out — was the most impressive of the bunch, as Miller trucked a defender near the goal line to complete the hat-trick.
“We had two running backs go down in the first half, which really hurt our depth,” Craft said. “Collin is just a guy who is ready to step up. We have a plan for him offensively. He’s such an explosive athlete. … He’s an incredible leader for our football team. Really proud of him, and he showed up tonight.”
Following the extra point on Miller's third TD, the Raiders held their first two-score edge of the game at 27-18 with under a minute to go in the third quarter.
But less than a minute later — on the first play of the final period — the Warriors answered back, pulling within 27-24.
Looking to possibly put the game away with another touchdown, North Forsyth's Logan Curry, who caught nine passes for 114 yards, ran the kickoff back to midfield. A fumble, though, ruined the drive, and even though the Raiders defense stepped up to force a punt, North Forsyth turned the ball over on downs during its next possession.
North Atlanta took over with 5:41 left, but the Warriors waited until almost the final possible moment to cap their series with a third Trey Lennon-to-Randolph Smith touchdown connection.
“After our defense played such a great first half, we just didn’t finish a tackle as well,” Craft said. “They got tired. They have some very explosive players offensively. I thought we tackled excellent and created some great turnovers in the first half.”
At certain times the sloppiness from both teams made the game feel more like a scrimmage than a televised regular-season game.
It started from the opening kickoff, which North Atlanta returned for a touchdown only to see the score waved off due to a penalty. This was followed in close succession by a Warriors fumble and a Raiders turnover on downs.
After a North Atlanta punt, three straight possessions resulted in touchdowns.
The second quarter saw a flurry of turnovers from both teams, including a North Forsyth fumble in the red zone. The Warriors broke off a long run to set up the first touchdown catch by Smith with 21 seconds left in the half that pulled the designated home team to within 14-12.
Having had its initial PAT blocked, North Atlanta began a string of 2-point conversion attempts. In total, the Warriors went for it three times, and the Raiders stopped them in each instance.
“In the first half, we left [the defense] on the field too long,” Craft said. “Had some great turnovers, and we had a chance to really put the lead out there. We didn’t really do those things. When you get the ball in great field position, you’ve got to cash in on that.”
Following what were likely halftime speeches focused on taking care of the football, the teams each scored touchdowns on their first two drives of the second half.
North Forsyth quarterback West Roberts hit Cooper Eglian on a screen pass, and the senior tight end followed his blockers for a 17-yard touchdown to begin the third quarter. The ensuing PAT was blocked, leaving the Raiders with an eight-point advantage.
Lennon ran in his second short touchdown and Smith caught his second TD pass on either side of Miller’s thunderous run into the end zone, putting the Warriors in position to pull off the late rally.
Despite the loss, Craft expressed appreciation that North Forsyth received an invitation to play in the annual kickoff showcase.
“What a phenomenal event for our high school and for our players,” Craft said. “That’s what high school football is about. It’s about experience, and this event creates a wonderful experience for our players. Feel very privileged to have played in it.”
Having played Thursday evening instead of Friday, the Raiders receive roughly an extra 24 hours to prepare for their second game.
That contest will be full of emotion, as North Forsyth makes the trip to Forsyth Central for the first intra-county matchup of the year.
“We’re going to try to use the extra day and get better tomorrow,” Craft said. “Central is a big rivalry. They’re going to be ready to play. We’ve got to get healed up. This was an intense, physical game.”