Tonight marks the mid-point of the high school football season, five weeks of region clashes, surprise starts and thrilling games.
The Forsyth County News' sport staff of Foster Lander and Brian Paglia break down first-half superlatives.
Foster Lander, sports writer: Tyler LaFlamme, South Forsyth. If you had asked me to make this selection at 7:29 p.m. last Friday, it would’ve been a toss-up between LaFlamme and Forsyth Central running back Shaun Diebel. That was before LaFlamme ran for 435 yards and five touchdowns against Chattahoochee in a 42-34 South win. His yardage total in that one game topped what every player but himself and Diebel had accumulated through four games. After five games, he has 985 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 103 carries (9.56 yards per carry). He’s a major reason why the War Eagles are tied for first at 4-0 in Region 6-AAAAAA.
Brian Paglia, sports editor: I, too, went through the mental debate a week ago for this feature — Diebel or LaFlamme? LaFlamme or Diebel? This past Friday ended that debate. LaFlamme has already eclipsed his season totals in rushing yards and touchdowns from a year ago. He ranks fourth in the state in rushing, first in Class AAAAAA entering Friday and I can’t wait to see what LaFlamme does for an encore after last week’s theatrics.
Lander: Alec Coburn, West Forsyth. Coburn has been one of the few constants for first-year head coach Adam Clack’s Wolverines. In the three West games I’ve covered this season, whenever I see a Wolverine defender in the backfield and closing in on a sack, my first instinct is to write No. 42 down in my notes—seriously. The senior defensive end leads Forsyth County with five sacks thus far. West was the first team to bother Northview quarterback DJ Pearson on a consistent basis. Coburn led a front seven that forced Pearson to throw on the run and contained the southpaw’s scramble attempts.
Paglia: It feels like something of a down year so far for defensive starpower. I predicted Coburn would be a contender for county defensive player of the year, but I didn’t expect South Forsyth linebacker Robby Johnson to be second in the county in tackles (48) to go along with four tackles for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles. Johnson has been the War Eagles’ leader on defense for what’s been the county’s best team through the first half of the season.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Lander: Jeff Arnette, South Forsyth. The South coaching staff had a singular goal coming in to the 2014 season: make the state playoffs. The War Eagles just missed out last year, but they’re in prime position now at 4-0 in Region 6-AAAAAA—though games with Northview (4-0) and Alpharetta (4-0) loom. The War Eagles have the most balanced offense in the county—quarterback Matt White is 53-of-90 for 901 yards and eight touchdowns, while LaFlamme (985 rushing yards), Grant Umberger and Sam Outlaw run behind a dominant offensive line.
Paglia: Take nothing away from the job Arnette has done at South this season. The War Eagles had to replace five Division I players and get past the sting of missing the state playoffs in the regular season finale. But I expected South to contend again this season. So Forsyth Central head coach Shane Williamson gets my vote. The Bulldogs are 3-2 overall and 1-1 in Region 7-AAAAA, Div. B. They’ve caught opponents’ attention with a close loss to Kell and blowout victory against Riverwood.
Lander: Shaun Diebel, Forsyth Central. The junior running back didn’t even play for Central last season as the Bulldogs finished 2-8. With Diebel on board this season, Shane Williamson’s squad is 3-2 with a chance to make the state playoffs. Jake Gorczyca, Central’s rushing leader last season, graduated, meaning the Bulldogs needed a second running back to complement Sabrian Howard in the wishbone offense. Diebel and Howard have complemented each other well—Diebel has averaged 140.8 yards per game on the ground as the Bulldogs have rushed for 1,168 yards through five games.
Paglia: Diebel. Hopefully it’s a nice consolation prize for Forsyth Central’s junior running back who has come out of nowhere and helped thrust the Bulldogs into playoff contention. He’s second in the county with 704 yards to along with eight touchdowns. He even added a touchdown pass last week against Riverwood for good measure. Sure, it’s his first varsity season, but this is no fluke. Diebel has a great combination of size, speed and agility that makes him a perfect fit for Central’s run-oriented offense.
Lander: Forsyth Central. The Bulldogs last finished .500 in 2008 and have not made the state playoffs since 2001. It was surprising, then, that Central started 2-0, hung with Class AAAAA No. 4 Kell for three quarters and smashed undefeated Riverwood, all the while completing just two passes—both for touchdowns. Diebel threw one of those touchdowns. It’s been that kind of season for Central.
Paglia: Central. After over a decade of futility, the buzz for Forsyth Central football is back this season. At 3-2 overall and 1-1 in region play, Central has a legitimate chance to reach the state playoffs, especially with winnable games left against North Atlanta and North Springs. With their tough play, the Bulldogs have quickly become an easy team to root for.