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Football Preview: Four local teams aim for 3-0
Lambert, North, South, West off to strong start
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West Forsyth head football coach Frank Hepler looks on during practice. The Wolverines are looking to improve to 3-0 against Starrs Mill tonight. - photo by Jared Putnam

Forsyth County’s Class 6A football programs have gotten the 2012 season off to a historic beginning.

Last Friday marked the first time that four Forsyth County varsity football programs had ever started 2-0 in the same season, and tonight Lambert, North Forsyth, South Forsyth and West Forsyth all have a chance to improve to 3-0.

In Class 5A, Forsyth Central will be looking for its first win when a strong Dawson County team visits the Bulldogs’ field, while Class A Pinecrest Academy will have had more than two weeks to regroup from a season-opening loss when the Paladins visit Mount Vernon for a 1 p.m. game on Saturday.

West Forsyth (2-0) vs. Starr’s Mill (1-1) — 7:30 p.m.

West Forsyth is back where it finished the 2011 season — considered to be among the top eight teams in the state’s largest classification.

The Wolverines moved up to No. 8 in the Class 6A rankings this week after defeating Flowery Branch 21-14 on Friday. The victory followed a 32-30 win against Gainesville in the season opener. Both Flowery Branch and Gainesville were ranked in the top 10 in Class 5A coming into the season.

Tonight West hosts a Starr’s Mill program that is less than two years removed from facing Chattahoochee for the Class AAAA state title in 2010, but finished just 5-5 last season.

"Coming off two big wins, I’m hoping our guys can keep it going," West coach Frank Hepler said.

"[Starr’s Mill is] real big on the lines, both offensively and defensively. We were impressed with their size up front.

"They have about three running backs that they rotate in ... so we hope that their speed doesn’t wear us down."

The Panthers have struggled on offense through their first two games, suffering a 42-3 loss against North Cobb in the season opener before bouncing back to defeat Fayette County 17-6 last week.

West could have some offensive limitations of its own depending on the status of senior wingback Jake Wieczorek.

Wieczorek, the 2011 Forsyth County Offensive Player of the Year, suffered a back injury in the first half of last week’s game and did not return to the field. He finished with 91 receiving yards on seven catches.

The Wolverines received good news this week when they learned that there was no structural damage to Wieczorek’s back, but Hepler has not taken any chances with the wingback as the Sept. 21 region opener against Alpharetta draws near.

"We’ve been holding him out [of practice] during the week," Hepler said.

"He’s been cleared by all the doctors but he’s going to be a game-time decision. We may hold him out to make sure he’s 100 percent for [the region schedule].

"It’s just a matter of being smart with him. We’re pretty healthy overall, which  is a good thing."

Penalties plagued the Wolverines last week, but Hepler said he was less concerned about the infractions after seeing them on film.

"When you play fast and aggressive football, sometimes things don’t appear to be what they really are," Hepler said.

The coach said a couple of late hit penalties the Wolverines incurred last week were the result of a player getting pushed into another player, while others were simply uncharacteristic mistakes.

"Some of the mistakes we’ve made with those penalties are things we can correct," he said. "There are a few of those penalties that guys looked at on film and said, ‘I can’t believe I did that.’"

South Forsyth (2-0) at Cambridge (0-1) — 7:30 p.m.

After putting up more than 40 points in each of its first two games, South is looking to improve its record to 3-0 for the first time since 2003 tonight against Cambridge, a first-year program in Region 7A-AAAAA.

Cambridge, which only has two players with any high school football experience, was outmatched in a 48-0 loss to Riverwood on Aug. 31. But with the Bears coming off an early bye week, South head coach Jeff Arnette isn’t taking the team lightly.

"You’re always nervous as a coach when a team has two weeks to prepare for you," Arnette said. "They are a newer program, so there’s not much film on them.

"They have a really good quarterback and some good skill players. [The quarterback] is a dual-threat type of guy, and when they’re on defense they run to the ball."

Facing a first-year program, South could get yet another big game from quarterback Jantzen Jeffrey, who threw for 157 yards last week and accounted for five touchdowns in a 41-14 win against Forsyth Central.

Running back Isaiah Williams, who rushed for 58 and racked up 102 receiving yards last week, will also present a challenge for the Bears on the ground.

Riverwood’s starting quarterback only threw the ball twice against Cambridge as the Bears failed to stop the run.

The War Eagles are two weeks away from their region opener against arch-rival Lambert, but Arnette said the team isn’t looking past Cambridge.

"Nobody is looking ahead," Arnette said. "This is a big game for us. We want to start the season 3-0, so we need to play like we’ve been playing and get better at the small things."

North Forsyth (2-0) vs. Cherokee (1-1) — 7:30 p.m.

The Raiders hope to carry some of the momentum from last week’s comeback victory against Dawson County into tonight’s matchup with Cherokee. The 21-point turnaround in the fourth quarter set a school record for most points scored in the fourth quarter during a comeback win.

"We’ve had a good week of practice, so expectations are high for us." North head coach Blair Armstrong said. "I learned that this team can pull themselves up from their bootstraps. We can fight back at the end of games and won’t give up."

North’s bruising sophomore running back Jamal Davenport, who had 96 rushing yards last week and 95 in the season opener, will likely be key if North is to get off to its first 3-0 start since 2009.

"He’s just a sophomore, but he’s matured quite a bit," Armstrong said. "He’s performed greater than we expected and has proven himself. ... We have confidence that he’s going to pick up the tough yards."

Cherokee runs the spread offense that features an agile quarterback, who can throw the ball down the field as well as run around defenders. The Warriors are averaging 25.5 points per game thus far.

"Their quarterback is their main guy on offense," Armstrong said. "They looked much better on film in their second game, so we’ll have to do our best.

"We need to execute and not turn the ball over and cut down on penalties."

Lambert (2-0) at Northview (0-1) — 7:30 p.m.

Coming off the high of  Ryan Karjala’s game-winning 36-yard field goal against Roswell, Lambert (2-0) will try to refocus its attention towards Northview tonight.

Northview (0-1) was off last week, but suffered a 48-19 loss to South to start the season. The Titans had a difficult time stopping any type of offense, which may bode well for the Longhorns’ offense that has averaged 16.5 points through the first two games.

Northview quarterback Justin Westbrook had some success in the opener, as he threw for three touchdowns against South. Running back Terrence Upshaw, who holds an offer from Vanderbilt, will try to shake off his three-fumble performance against the War Eagles.

Forsyth Central (0-2) vs. Dawson County (2-1) — 7:30 p.m.

Forsyth Central hopes to turn things around against Dawson County after falling to North Forsyth 10-7 in the season opener and losing to South Forsyth 41-14 last week.

Central head coach Chris Bennett said the Bulldogs were "mentally drained" after back-to-back rivalry games and needed a change of pace in the schedule.

For Central to win against Dawson, a team that heavily relies on the hurry-up offense, the Bulldogs must contain senior quarterback Tyler Dominy. Dominy finished last week’s game against North going 21-for-26 for 208 yards and two touchdowns.

In three games, the Tigers’ offense has put up 42, 35 and 28 points.

"We have to slow Dominy down," Bennett said. "He’s a good football player that can make exceptional plays, so we’ve got to keep him in front of us.

"They have a big back who makes some plays for them, too. We just can’t hurt ourselves with penalties."

That big back is senior running back Zack Martin. Martin ran for 1,201 yards and 17 touchdowns for Dawson last year. Against North, Martin had three drives of 50 yards or more and accounted for 16 first downs.

Another concern for Bennett is Dawson’s return specialist, who returned two kicks for touchdowns in last week’s game.

Bennett hopes Central kicker Anel Ramic won’t give Dawson a chance to hurt the Bulldogs on kickoffs.

"You can’t let them get 14 [points] on kickoffs," Bennett said. "Our kicker has put the ball in the back of the end zone 100 percent of the time, so that’s been a huge blessing."

Pinecrest (0-1) at Mt. Vernon Presbyterian (1-1) — 1 p.m. Saturday

Pinecrest Academy head coach Todd Winter joked that he only had to provide three meals during the Paladins’ bye week, and hopes it’s the last time he visits a fast-food chain for a while.

The Paladins (0-1) turned the ball over seven times in a 45-7 season-opening loss, so Winter tried a new type of motivation during the bye week to remedy the turnover problem — hamburgers.

"We put the ball on the ground too many times," Winter said. "We played out of character, it just wasn’t us, and so I told the guys that I would take them out [for food] if they forced a turnover in practice.

"It worked out great. The guys on defense were trying to strip the ball, just like in a game, and the guys on offense were motivated to hang on to it. We only had three turnovers out of 60 plays."

Pinecrest will need to keep that same intensity as the Paladins travel to Mt. Vernon Presbyterian on Saturday.

Mt. Vernon won its first GHSA football game on Aug. 31 and like Pinecrest, is coming off a bye week.