North Forsyth refused to go away Friday night in its season opener at home against Cherokee. The Raiders erased an early 14-0 deficit to make the score 20-16 as late as three minutes to go in the third quarter, but eventually the high-powered Warriors offense—led by junior quarterback Nolan Donley and senior tailback Brittain Brown—was too much to handle as Cherokee won 33-24 in Raider Valley.
North (0-1) entered the season with questions after going just 1-9 and being held to a touchdown or fewer in six of its games last season, but the Raiders flashed signs of improvement by outgaining Cherokee 395 to 361, much in part to a newfound passing attack.
“As a coach you hate to have moral victories, but when you come off the kind of season that we had you try to find every positive you can find,” North head coach Jason Galt, who’s Raiders fell 42-14 to Cherokee in last year’s season opener, said. “Our guys fought until the very end against a very good team. We were really three or four mistakes away from winning the game. The kids realized they’re not bad.”
“We’ll come up here and take the win,” Cherokee head coach Josh Shaw said. “This is a tough place to play, a tough team to play on the road.”
North’s last punch was a 40-yard prayer from starting quarterback Jacob Bailey that seemingly fell through the hands of a Cherokee defender and into the waiting arms of Simon Holcomb with just over two minutes remaining to make the score 33-24, but it was too little, too late.
Bailey finished 8 of 10 passing for 140 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 62 yards on 18 carries, including a 12-yard touchdown run that capped off a 15-play drive that made the score 14-7 just after the start of the second quarter.
After Cherokee took a 20-7 lead on one of Donley’s four touchdown passes, North answered right before the first half ended with a 21-yard play-action strike on a sneaky crossing pattern by Holcomb, who was wide open in the back of the endzone. Holcomb finished with five catches for 102 yards, while former junior varsity standout Cody Dwyer had a big senior debut as a passer, receiver and runner—he caught three passes for 38 yards, completed two for 50 on trick plays and rushed for 53 on 13 carries.
“He’s just a guy who had other seniors in front of him in the past,” Galt said. “We’ve got some guys that can make plays as long as we’re healthy.”
Donley finished 15 of 20 for 221 yards passing and connected in the endzone with receivers Montrell Washington (twice), Aaron Knowles on an 84-yard pump and go, and Justin Weathers, though he was also intercepted by North’s Robert Bishop just before halftime. Brown, committed as an athlete do Duke, rushed for 122 yards on 17 carries and scored the touchdown that put the game in Cherokee’s hands at 33-16 in the fourth quarter, punching in from 8 yards out.
“Brittain is one of the best players I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach. We’re going to ride his shoulders all season,” Shaw said.
Cherokee improved to 2-0 in the win after opening the season last week against Chattahoochee, while North will play a region schedule for the remainder of the season, starting next week at Chattahoochee.