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Football Preview: West can improve to 7-0 with win over rival North
Central seeks 3-0 start in Region 7A-AAAAA
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Forsyth Central receiver Jeremiah Jones, right, breaks a tackle during practice on Wednesday. - photo by Jared Putnam

All six of Forsyth County’s varsity football teams are in action this week, as a West Forsyth-North Forsyth showdown in Raider Valley heads the list of tonight’s games.

Pinecrest Academy, which hosts No. 6-ranked George Walton Academy, is the only other local team playing at home.

Forsyth Central has a chance to improve to 3-0 in Region 7A-AAAAA at Sequoyah, while Lambert tries to bounce back from its first loss of the season in Johns Creek and South Forsyth heads to Centennial still looking for its first Region 6-AAAAAA victory.

West Forsyth (6-0, 3-0 Region 6-AAAAAA) at North Forsyth (3-3, 0-3)

With four weeks remaining in the regular season, the question remains: Can anyone beat West Forsyth?

The No. 5-ranked Wolverines seized sole possession of first place in Region 6 by reeling off 34 unanswered points against Johns Creek in a 37-16 win last Friday at The Den.

West now turns its attention to its biggest rival, North Forsyth, which the Wolverines pummeled 38-0 last season after being humbled by the Raiders in 2009 (37-0) and 2010 (21-0). The all-time series between the two schools stands tied 2-2.

While the Wolverines appear poised to make another postseason run this year, their coaching staff is not pretending that this is just another opponent on the path to an 11th game.

"It’s a big rival," West coach Frank Hepler said. "[The Raiders are] well-coached, they’re good players and those guys are going to be ready.

"We talked to our kids about how this is an in-county opponent and you want to prove to them that you’re working hard and are a good team. We’re working just as if they’re the the number one team in the state."

It would not be unprecedented for the Raiders to upset the Wolverines.

North was 2-4 overall when it faced a 6-1 West team in 2010 and pulled off a shutout victory, but that was a senior-stocked Raiders squad. This season, like last year, West has the advantage when it comes to both experience and elite talent.

"They’ve got three Division I college prospects on their team," North coach Blair Armstrong said.

"They’ve improved a lot [as an offense] because of the quarterback’s running ability. Last year he was an average runner; this year he’s a good runner.

"We’ll have to mix it up so we don’t give them the same look all time."

The Wolverines showed much about their mental makeup in rallying to defeat Johns Creek last Friday. Prior to falling into a 16-3 hole against the Gladiators, West had not trailed in a game since going down 15-7 against Gainesville in the second quarter of Week 1.

West was stopped twice in the red zone against Johns Creek in the first half, including a drive in which the offense had second-and-goal at the Gladiators’ 1 with time running out in the second quarter.

The Wolverines could have unraveled as Johns Creek began the ensuing series with a chance to extend the lead to three touchdowns, but instead used a Conner Vandenbos interception to spark their turnaround.

"The value [to falling behind like that] is that [players see] the coach is right, just keep playing hard and giving your effort and good things will happen," Hepler said.

"That’s why early on this season we scheduled Gainesville and Flowery Branch and Starr’s Mill. ... There’s benefits to playing the tough teams and getting down sometimes and showing that we can come back — you’ve just got to keep working."

It’s doubtful, however, that the Wolverines will be getting pats on the back for their accomplishments in Raider Valley tonight. Though West is a 32-point favorite in the Maxwell Projections, the Raiders are approaching the game looking for a repeat of their 2010 upset victory.

"It’s definitely a huge rivalry," Armstrong said. "We feel like we’re catching them [as a program]. We feel like if we can play our best game tomorrow night, we’ll have a shot."

Forsyth Central (2-4, 2-0 Region 7A-AAAAA) at Seqouyah (3-3, 1-1)

Forsyth Central recovered from an 0-4 start by winning its first two subregion games, but things get much tougher tonight when the Bulldogs head to Canton to face Sequoyah.

The Chiefs’ offense revolves around senior Blake Ingleton, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound running back who has already amassed more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns this season. Though most of Ingleton’s production has come on the ground (888 rushing yards, 13 TD), where he has averaged a whopping 9.35 yards per rush on 95 carries, he is also the only player on the team with 100 or more receiving yards.

"He’s a big kid, he’s physical, he’s strong and even plays a little defense," Central head coach Chris Bennett said. "In six games, to already have 1,000 yards is pretty good.

"On defense we’ve got to be able to contain him. He’s one of those that, when he plays he’s going to get his, but you just try to limit what he gets."

It’s difficult to gauge how far Central’s defense has come since the start of the season. The Bulldogs have allowed only 22 total points over the past two games, but those performances came against the anemic offenses of North Springs (6 points per game) and Cambridge (11 ppg).

For the season, the Bulldogs are allowing 25 points per game.

On offense, Central appears to have made clear strides, averaging 35 points over the past four games after being held to a combined 21 points against North Forsyth and South Forsyth in the first two weeks of the season.

The vast majority of the Bulldogs’ production has come on the ground, where they have averaged more than 300 rushing yards over the past four games behind junior quarterback Michael Branigan, who has topped 120 rushing yards in three of those contests.

"Our kids have played well offensively, especially in the last four games," Bennett said.

"We started 18 of 22 starters that hadn’t played on Friday night and ... we still have a long way to go, but we have gotten better than those first couple of games."

Lambert (5-1, 2-1 Region 6-AAAAAA) at Johns Creek (5-1, 2-1)

Lambert and Johns Creek both saw their undefeated records go down in flames last Friday, but only the Longhorns’ loss came as a surprise.

While the Gladiators raced out to a 13-point lead on No. 5-ranked West Forsyth before surrendering 34 unanswered points in a 37-16 loss, the Longhorns never gained any traction in a 26-7 road loss to Centennial, which hadn’t won a game coming into the night.

Lambert now faces the unenviable task of trying to get its season back on track despite closing out the season against the top four teams in Region 6. The Horns’ difficult stretch begins tonight against the Gladiators, who ended Lambert’s perfect season last year with a 23-0 win in Johns Creek.

"It all comes down to the old cliche, ‘You’ve got to take care of yourself,’" Lambert coach Sid Maxwell said. "We’re a young bunch with a lot of new guys on defense. We played Johns Creek last year and they got the best of us, and all those guys are back. They’ve got a real good bunch of seniors."

Lambert’s defense will have to remain disciplined against an option offense that does a good job of disguising where the ball is going. Gladiators senior quarterback Skye Overton is a dual threat, coming into the day with 986 passing yards and five touchdowns to go along with a team-leading 593 rushing yards and 11 more scores on the ground.

Junior running back Chase Solomon has added 770 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns.

"It all centers around their quarterback, Overton," Maxwell said. "He’s their trigger man and he’s a three-year starter.

"He’s the guy that moves the chains and gets first downs. We played them last year and it seemed like if they needed 10 yards, he’d pick up 10 yards and one foot."

The Longhorns will also need to eliminate their turnovers against Johns Creek. Lambert fumbled the ball four times last week and lost two.

"[Centennial was] error free probably for the first time and we made numerous [mistakes]," Maxwell said.

"We’ve got to take [each game] one at a time. Everything’s doable if you get young men pointed in the right direction."

South Forsyth (3-3, 0-3 Region 6-AAAAAA) at Centennial (1-5, 1-2)

Erase one key play in each of the last two games and South Forsyth could very well be 5-1. Instead, the War Eagles are 3-3 and still looking for their first region victory.

"You think it’s going to fall your way sooner or later," South coach Jeff Arnette said. "As a coach, you’ve got to find a way to put the kids in a situation to win those games."

South held Alpharetta’s prolific offense to a season-low 21 points in Week 5, but couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity or even manufacture any points of their own, after starting quarterback Jantzen Jeffrey left the game with a concussion midway through the first quarter. The War Eagles were left wondering how that game might have been different if Jeffrey had played against a Raiders’ defense that came in allowing 37.5 points per game.

Last week South appeared to have an upset win over Chattahoochee in hand only to watch Cougars’ quarterback Travis Marshall drive his team 80 yards in less than two minutes and throw a game-winning touchdown with only 22.2 seconds on the clock at War Eagle Field.

"It’s tough," Arnette said. "When you get that close and don’t seem to finish it out, it makes for a long weekend. Everybody’s hurt, but the great thing about our coaches and our kids, we came back to work on Monday and just started trying to get better."

Tonight the War Eagles face a Centennial squad that looked like an automatic win a week ago. But after losing their first five games, the Knights stunned unbeaten Lambert  with a 26-7 win at The Fortress.

Centennial quarterback Chase Rosenberg completed 15 of 22 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns in the victory.

"I know it sounds crazy [since they’re 1-5], but they’ve got a really good football team," Arnette said. "They’ve got a really good quarterback and some good receivers.

"They really played a great game last Friday night against Lambert. They’re going to be skyhigh at home after that victory."

Pinecrest Academy (3-2, 2-1 Region 8-A) vs. George Walton Academy (5-1, 2-0)

Pinecrest Academy suffered its first region loss of the season last Friday against No. 5-ranked Athens Academy, and things don’t get much easier for the Paladins tonight against No. 6-ranked George Walton Academy.

Pinecrest hasn’t beaten the Bulldogs since 2009, the last year that the two programs competed in the Georgia Independent School Association. George Walton defeated the Paladins 28-0 last season and 41-7 in 2010.

The Paladins currently sit in a three-way tie for third place in Region 8-A with No. 7-ranked Prince Avenue Christian and Athens Christian.

If Pinecrest can’t upset George Walton tonight, it may make next Friday’s game at Athens Christian a must-win for the team to have a chance to make the playoffs.

Pinecrest has adopted a "Go Baby Blue" theme for tonight’s game in which players, coaches and cheerleaders will sport blue apparel as "an expression of gratitude to parents for the gift of life."