North withstood a last-second scare from South to win a 17-12 thriller in Raider Valley on Friday night.
The win puts North (7-3, 4-3 in Region 6-AAAAAA) in the playoffs for the first time since 2010, while the loss drops South (7-3, 4-3) from third to fifth place in the region and out of the postseason.
"It was just an exciting high school football game," said North head coach Jason Galt. "We made plays when we had to. We still made some mistakes, but that’s going to happen in football.
"They showed resilience and kept fighting to the very end. My hats off to South, they kept fighting to the very end too."
South had its best season since 2003 when it went 8-4 and made the playoffs. But this year, the War Eagles fell just shy of their goals.
"Just like always, we never quit," South head coach Jeff Arnette said. "We didn’t play our best game by any means, but we fought right to the end.
"I hate that these seniors, as hard as they played all year, that it had to end like this. I’m just proud of the way they worked all year."
Getting a win in Forsyth County’s "Civil War" was worth savoring, but to earn a playoff berth made it even sweeter.
"It means everything," said North quarterback Cody Gottberg. "We’ve been working four years for this moment."
Early in the third quarter, trailing 3-0, South appeared to gain momentum after junior Austin Ataide blocked a punt that went through the end zone for a safety. The War Eagles capped the ensuing drive with a 20-yard field goal by Alex Barbir to take a 5-3 lead.
North answered midway through the third when Cody Gottberg hit junior Colton Miller for an 8-yard scoring strike. The touchdown was set up by a 71-yard Gottberg-to-Luke Slaton pass, which got the Raiders inside the 10.
Then on the first play of the fourth quarter, with North leading a 10-5, Gottberg hit a streaking Miller down the middle of the field and this time he took it 73 yards for a score.
South could not find an answer for Slaton or Miller all night long. Slaton finished with five receptions for 137 yards while Miller tallied six catches for 112 yards and those two big touchdowns.
"This win means everything to our team," Miller said. "Cody Gottberg did a great job. He stepped up when Harris [Roberts] got hurt and has been leading us great."
The signal-caller, Gottberg, was one of the catalysts. A week ago he tallied 121 yards on the ground while attempting just seven passes. Friday night was a different story as he completed 16 of 23 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns.
"We’ve had a few of these games go down to the wire." Galt said. "These kids just find a way to win. You can’t say enough about them. This senior class is like a family. It’s just a special group that seems to find a way to win every week."
The War Eagles had a shot to win the game late. They converted a huge fourth down when Sam Walker made a one-handed grab and took it down to North’s 29-yard line with less than a minute to play.
The drive continued to the 13 before a penalty and sack pushed South back out to the 29. The game ended on a desperation final pass, but the receiver was brought down at the 5 as time expired.
South’s offense was led by Isaiah Williams, who carried the ball 15 times for 67 yards. Walker had 5 receptions for 94 yards.
"This season was great for us," said South senior offensive lineman Kyle Watford. "We’ve come such a long way with all these guys. Sometimes things don’t go your way, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything."
North finishes as the fourth seed from the region and will travel to Lawrenceville next week to take on Archer (10-0, 8-0), who finished first in Region 8-AAAAAA.
"The playoffs start a whole new season," Gottberg said. "Everybody is 0-0. We’re in the playoffs and if we try hard enough and work hard enough, we have a chance to go to The Dome."