CANTON – When the Warrior princess fell off her horse and the steed ran out of the stadium as the Cherokee football team took the field, it should have been seen as a bad omen.
North Forsyth broke some big plays in the second half for a 34-27 victory Friday on the road in a non-region game. The win improved the Raiders to 3-0 for the second consecutive season.
"It was a dang good high school football game," North coach Jason Galt said. "It was back and forth. We battled to the end. We found a way to win when we had to."
North (3-0) went up quickly. After a long return on the opening kickoff, the Raiders were quick to score on a 2-yard run with 6:36 remaining in the first half.
Cherokee (2-1) running back Brittain Brown would fumble the Warriors first offensive play of the night. North recovered the ball on the Cherokee 24 and scored five plays later to make it 14-0 in the first quarter.
The Warriors seem to shake off the early mistakes and went to work on a 72-yard drive, but came up short when Gary Dubiel’s field goal attempt failed.
Cherokee started crawling back. Just two plays after turning the ball over to the Raiders, Cherokee regained possession by forcing a fumble on the Raider 25. Just four plays later the Warriors were in the end zone with an 8-yard run by Brown. Obie Brannon was good with the extra point and Cherokee trailed 14-7.
While the Warrior defense didn’t work quite the same magic on the Raiders next possession, they were able to hold North on a fourth-and-short and the ball was turned over on downs. The teams would swap punts before Cherokee would put together another scoring drive.
Brown once again capped the drive with a 17-yard run, however the point after attempt failed and the North led 14-13 at the half.
The third quarter brought more of the same for the Warriors, who seemed to have changed the tide. On a 74-yard drive, which featured Blake Johnston doing most of the work on the ground, the Warriors scored in unusual fashion. After being backed up with a holding penalty, Cherokee found itself in a third-and-goal from the 12. Quarterback Spencer Ashley targeted Blace Brown for the reception, but the ball was merely tipped by Brown before Andrew Harris brought in the catch. Cherokee was up 20-14.
North scored before the end of the third quarter, with Zach Slaton scoring his second rushing touchdown of the night. The third quarter ended with the Raiders up 21-20.
Cherokee went to work on the ground again with Johnston eating up yards, however all that changed when Ashley dropped back to pass. North's Logan Cross jumped the route and intercepted the pass, cutting short what appeared to be a promising drive.
North would convert that turnover into a 15-yard passing touchdown from Harris Roberts to Luke Slaton.
Cherokee was unable to get the its offense going and turned the ball over on its next possession. With less than 2 minutes remaining in the game, the Warrior offense attempted to hold the Raiders, but Slate broke free after catching a long pass and scored from 49-yards out. North Forsyth led 34-20 with 1:24 remaining.
Luke and Zach Slaton combined to score all five of North’s touchdowns.
"They played huge," Galt said. "They can go forever. Luke played both ways the entire game. Zach’s only a sophomore. Just a great job by both of them.
"And of course, everything that happens for us is the offensive linemen. [Offensive line] coach [Scott] Williams and those guys are doing a great job. They were physically dominating tonight."
Cherokee responded with a 57-yard touchdown drive, which ended with Ashley rushed for the 5-yard score with 13 seconds remaining. However, the game was effectively over when the Warriors failed to recover an on-side kick attempt.
Johnston led Cherokee with 16 carries for 103 yards. Blace Brown caught six passes for 107 yards.
Still what cost the Warriors the most were penalties.
"They hurt quite a bit," Cherokee coach Josh Shaw said. "Really the holding calls are extremely devastating because they are 15 yarders. Instead of second-and-whatever or third-and-whatever, it because first-and-25 or second-and-25 and it becomes hard to call plays like that. We are a good offensive football team, but you can only convert those so many times."