With every pair of eyes at a jammed-pack Bulldogs Field focused on him, Vince Sciorrotta refused to look at the yellow goalposts 38 yards away.
Instead, the North Forsyth senior kicker said he remembered the mental checklist he goes through before every kick. The last item on that list?
"Keep your eyes down," he said.
Sciorrotta drilled a 38-yard field goal with 5:33 remaining, and the Raiders held their breath as Forsyth Central narrowly missed a 46-yard field goal with a minute left, giving North a thrilling 10-7 season-opening victory.
"We needed a victory," said North coach Blair Armstrong, who saw the Raiders go 1-9 last season in his first year at the helm. Mustering a slight smile, he added, "Now we’re even with last year."
The first meeting between the two county rivals since 2007 was a tight, tense affair through most of the humid night. Both teams scored touchdowns in the first half and missed chances to take the lead in the second half.
The tide turned for North (1-0) as the fourth quarter commenced. Behind the running of sophomore running back Jamal Davenport, the Raiders marched 36 yards to the Central 21. Davenport kept the drive alive by gaining three yards on fourth-and-3, and his 3-yard gain on third-and-3 gave North a first down at the Central 23.
Davenport rushed for 95 yards on 19 carries, 51 of those yards coming in the second half. He gained 28 yards on six carries during the 6-minute, 18-second drive.
"He’s a great, great kid," Armstrong said. "He’s earned a starting spot, and we look forward to him having a big year for us."
Sciorrotta spent the drive kicking balls into a net on the sidelines, knowing his leg might be needed to snap the tie. He admitted after the game he was nervous as he came onto the field, but he converted the field goal to put the Raiders ahead 10-7.
The Bulldogs (0-1) still had time, and they went to work. Junior quarterback Michael Branigan hit C.J. Cochran for a 30-yard gain on the first play of the drive, moving the Bulldogs to midfield. Branigan slipped through the North defensive line on fourth-and-4, giving Central a first down at the North 37 with 2:41 remaining.
Facing third-and-1 at the 28, North’s defense stuffed Central running back Nathan Alvarado at the line for no gain. Central kicker Anel Ramic came on for a 46-yard field goal that had plenty of distance, but sailed just wide of the left upright.
After the game, Central coach Chris Bennett and Ramic stood alone, Bennett offering reassuring words to his kicker.
"In the time I’ve been here, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a team play that hard for four quarters," Bennett said. "Playing a game like this will help our kids grow and mature."
The Bulldogs needed less than two minutes to score their first touchdown of 2012. Central took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards on five plays. Shay Hollis raced 12 yards off right tackle to give the Bulldogs a first down at the North 39.
Central then ran a perfectly executed halfback option pass, Cochran hitting Jeremiah Jones in stride at the goal line for a 39-yard touchdown. Ramic hit the extra point, and the Bulldogs led 7-0 with 10:02 left in the first half.
North answered early in the second quarter. Luke Slaton’s 21-yard punt return on the final play of the first quarter set up the Raiders at the Bulldogs’ 23. Two plays later, Davenport broke through the line of scrimmage and bulled his way 15 yards for a touchdown.
Sciorrotta added the extra point, tying the game at 7-7 with 11:09 to go before halftime.
Both teams had opportunities to break the tie late in the half. A 13-play drive on Central’s next possession brought the Bulldogs to the North 6, but a host of Raiders stopped Cochran on fourth-and-1 with 4:44 remaining in the half.
North quarterback Harris Roberts completed passes of 9 and 28 yards to Antonio Adame, and a 16-yard completion from Roberts to Bailey Mauldin gave the Raiders a first down at the Central 38. But on second-and-1 from the 29, North was called for intentional grounding and Roberts’ third-down pass fell incomplete.
Hollis led all rushers with 98 yards on 12 carries, 86 of those yards coming in the first half. Branigan completed all four of his passes for 44 yards, as the Bulldogs finished with 266 yards of total offense.
Roberts completed 5-of-11 passes for 69 yards. The Raiders finished with 13 first downs — eight in the second half — and 233 yards of total offense.
The victory was North’s first against the Bulldogs since 2005. The Raiders now lead the overall series 7-6 and snapped a two-game losing streak to Central.
When the game ended, the North players poured onto the field and celebrated a hard-fought victory they hope will carry over into Friday’s game against Dawson County.
"It feels great," Davenport said. "We’ve started things off on the right path. We’ve just got to keep the momentum going."