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Football: The best of Forsyth County football in 2017

Best game

South Forsyth's Zach Burchfield, left, and Jack Pehrson bring down Roswell quarterback Cordel Littlejohn on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, in the Corky Kell Classic at Georgia State Stadium. - photo by Micah Green

South Forsyth 17, Roswell 14, Aug. 18

First time’s a charm, right? The War Eagles’ triumphant march through the tunnels of the former Turner Field after this Corky Kell Classic matchup told an observer all he needed to know about the significance of this win, and the on-field action was plenty dramatic. The end of overtime was heart-stopping enough: South scored the game-winning points on a field goal where holder Caleb Outlaw had to scoop a bad snap off the turf, and the final play of the game saw Roswell’s Kamonty Jett get agonizingly close to a drive-extending first down before safety Jake Wilson brought him down. This win looked less impressive the longer the season went on: Roswell showed that it wasn’t close to worthy of the No. 2 ranking it held heading into the game, as the Hornets got smoked by Milton to close non-region play and eventually lost in the first round of the playoffs. But it was a thrilling way to open the season and gave South a swagger that carried the War Eagles’ through a season where they didn’t lose in regulation.

Best crowd/atmosphere

A West Forsyth defender tries to tackle Milton running back Solomon Vanhorse in the team’s Region 5-7A opener Friday, Oct. 6, 2017. - photo by Michael Chung

Milton at West Forsyth, Oct. 6

I don’t know what priceless artifact Adam Clack broke on his way out of West Forsyth, but the Wolverines really, really wanted to beat their former head coach in his first year with the region rival Eagles. The animus seemed to mainly come from West’s student section, which redid the design of its Twitter page to mark the week, but the Wolverines’ players clearly felt the extra significance of this game, as well. They appeared to raise their level of play as a result, coming brutally close – just inches, in fact – to beating a very good Milton team, the only representative of Region 5-7A to win a state playoff game.

Best individual performance

South Forsyth's Jared Honey tries to break free of a tackler during the War Eagles' game against Lassiter on Sept. 22. Photo by Paul Ward.

Jared Honey, South Forsyth, Sept. 22

We knew that the War Eagles were pretty legit by this point, but a win over Lassiter, with its active spread offense and defense led by Notre Dame commit Derrik Allen, would make South…well, whatever the state past “legit” is. South’s defense, light on big names but heavy on discipline and togetherness, sufficiently contained the Trojans, and Honey was content to do the bulk of the offensive work himself. He rushed for 188 yards on 31 carries and scored three touchdowns, with one of them coming on the end of a drive where he got 10 carries. He was also crowned homecoming king at halftime. What a night!

Best breakout season

South Forsyth quarterback Cal Morris goes to throw Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 against Roswell. - photo by Micah Green

Cal Morris, South Forsyth

It seems strange to choose a senior here, but the county truly didn’t know that much about Morris heading into this season. Davis Shanley was South’s guy at quarterback the past two seasons, and when Shanley got hurt and couldn’t go late last year, it was Drew Morris taking over for the War Eagles, because Cal had broken his collarbone earlier in the year. It turns out that Cal is really, really good: A proficient passer, completing 54 percent of his passes and throwing for 1,403 yards in a run-focused offense, and a truly dangerous runner, averaging 6.5 yards per run and showing mastery of the read option. It’s a shame that we only got to see him in a full-time role for one season.

Best comeback

Forsyth Central's Brad Thiltgen
Forsyth Central quarterback Brad Thiltgen runs for a gain against North Hall in the Bulldogs' scrimmage Friday, August 11, 2017. - photo by Gainesville Times

Kennesaw Mountain 49, Forsyth Central 42, Sept. 22

The Bulldogs finished 0-10 in the second year of Frank Hepler’s tenure, and while that number has to sting, they sure as heck fought all the while. Central’s non-conference schedule included some of the most dramatic games of the year for any county team, and their overtime loss toKennesaw Mountain was probably the peak. The Bulldogs trailed 35-7 late in the second quarter, a touchdown run by Devran Orsan just before halftime shifted the momentum a bit, and Central got two touchdowns in the third quarter and two more in the fourth to draw even with the Mustangs at the end of regulation. Bulldogs quarterback Brad Thiltgen turned in a downright heroic performance in this one, rushing for 275 yards and throwing for 267.

Best coaching job

South Forsyth football coach Jeff Arnette, left, laughs during a back-and-forth with the media at the 2017 Forsyth County Media Day Wednesday, July 26. - photo by Micah Green

Jeff Arnette, South Forsyth

After the War Eagles clinched this season’s region title with a road win over West Forsyth, Arnette was asked to compare his two most successful squads at South: This season and the 2015 team that made it to the state quarterfinals. A main difference, he said, was that 2017’s team had serious expectations to live up to, which these War Eagles largely did. However, those expectations, driven by the program’s wealth of returners and seniors, weren’t matched by a large presence of high-profile talent. South had no obvious Power 5-level recruit this year, no Ben Bresnahan or Kenneth Dicks III, although a few underclassmen seem to have that potential. This was just a disciplined, balanced squad that rolled over most of its opponents. Arnette often lavished credit on his assistants, like offensive coordinator Troy Morris and defensive coordinator Trevor Williams, but the head man certainly deserves his due.

Best quotes

"This program's not going to be rebuilt on the 7A level in one season or even two seasons. It's going to take a few years, and these are the building blocks. In three or four years, when you guys come and talk to us when we've won a region championship, you'll be like, 'Yeah coach, I remember that night you had Duluth beat and you let them off the hook.' That was a building block. That's what we're looking at." – Forsyth Central head coach Frank Hepler after the Bulldogs’ brutal overtime loss to Duluth.

“I’m just waiting for the check they owe us for playing this game.” – Pinecrest Academy head coach Terance Mathis after the Class 1A-private Paladins got handled by 7A South Forsyth.

“We were a lot better than that team.” South Forsyth quarterback Cal Morris after the War Eagles smashed rival Lambert 38-0.