Take a look at the football standings so far in Forsyth County: Forsyth Central (3-0), North Forsyth (3-1), South Forsyth (3-1), West Forsyth (3-1), Pinecrest Academy (2-1), Lambert (1-3).
Anything catch your eye?
That’s right – the two teams from the north side of the county, both under new coaching regimes, are, at least numerically, leading the charge as we head into the final week of what has been an exhilarating non-region schedule. The non-region slate, full of big games against opponents from more historically successful counties, have also put more of a spotlight on Forsyth. Take, for instance, West having two local television stations and a radio station on hand when it hosted Hillgrove two weeks ago. Or, how about the fact South is in the Georgia Sports Writers Association’s top 10 in Class 7A after blowing away a trendy South Gwinnett squad?
But Central and North have drawn their fair share of praise, especially from the Georgia High School Football Daily—an online publication that does about as good job of anyone at breaking down high school football in the talented state of Georgia. This week alone, Central was highlighted in a list of 17 unbeaten teams that are not ranked.
As well, North was mentioned by the GHSFB Daily as a possible sleeper to steal away the final, at-large state playoff spot in the Class 7A playoffs—the one that many assumed would go to the fourth-place team in Region 1-7A by way of power ranking (Region 1, because it only has four teams, only has three auto-bids for the postseason. The other seven regions in Class 7A are large enough to have the standard of four bids).
Still, respect might be yet to come for Central and North. If you truly break down how each team has gotten to where it is at this point in the season, you’ll see there’s still tons to learn.
Central has earned its wins against some pedestrian competition. River Ridge, while rapidly improving, is a young program that has struggled mightily playing high-class football since its opening. The last two games against Meadowcreek and Duluth were against the two worst programs in Gwinnett County not named Berkmar. As well, Central trailed Dawson County—a Class 3A school, albeit a very strong one – 14-9 in the second quarter before the game was called due to severe weather.
Nevertheless, the Bulldogs have handled their business under head coach Frank Hepler, who we all know can win football games. The Bulldogs are averaging 41.7 points per game, and they’re doing it on the ground with a running back in Sabrian Howard who is looking to earn some respect of his own.
Howard has 606 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns through the first three official games and is currently, unofficially, the FCN’s favorite to win offensive player of the year in the county. He admits he’s been talking to college coaches (though asks for us not to name who), but there’s plenty more desired—he has zero announced offers to this point.
“It’s really about me just going out and handling business,” Howard said. “Since coach (Hepler) got here, he has so many connections. I’m trusting the process and focusing on playing for the team. It’s a lot of pressure, being that focal point in the offense, but as a senior I take pride in it.”
At Coal Mountain, head coach Robert Craft got to experience the first real moment of Coal Mountain Magic on Friday when quarterback Ben Bales hit Charlie Aiken for a game-winning touchdown with just 16 seconds remaining against Pickens.
North, which has also played lower-class competition, but relatively strong teams, is standing tall at 3-1 with its only loss coming by a touchdown at the hands of a familiar opponent in Johns Creek. The Raiders have eclipsed 30 points in each win so far and can earn tons of respect tonight with another win at Woodstock.
So far, for Craft, the number one thing pushing his team forward is resiliency.
“We just have not flinched,” Craft said. “Pretty much in each game we’ve gotten off to rough starts, and to come back and win I think shows a lot about how our kids just go right back out there and continue to do what they’re coached to do and compete.
“The way they have played, it’s not surprising to our coaches, or our kids. The work they put in in the spring is a reflection of the success they have had to this point, and we’ve continued to tell them—success is really hard.”
Even with a combined record of 7-1, the teams from the north still are in a proverbial back seat—for now. South has bounced back from a disappointing loss in the Corky Kell Classic to Hillgrove with three big wins, including the blowout against the Comets. The War Eagles are considered a top 10 team in 7A—an accolade that didn’t meet them last season until the final week. West, which received a vote in the GSWA poll this week, might have a case to crack the top 10 with a win over Newnan and maybe even some help from South tonight against Lassiter.
And even Lambert, which dropped a heartbreaker last Friday at Lanier—a top 5 team in Class 6A to begin the season—still could rise as a region favorite and host a playoff game before it’s all said and done.
The truth is, after tonight, everyone in Forsyth will be preparing for a sprint to the finish. The question still remains: Will Central or North make noise in the race?
Right now, more than ever, you probably can’t tell anyone at either school otherwise.
“This is the most fun I’ve had, even going back to the days at Otwell,” Howard said. “It feels great to win. Hopefully the culture is changing.”