Though the 2012 season opener is still a full two weeks away, five of Forsyth County’s six GHSA football teams saw their first action against an opposing squad last week in scrimmages.
South Forsyth vs. Winder-Barrow
South Forsyth made its share of mistakes Friday night, but a dominant third-quarter effort made up for all of them.
The War Eagles outscored Winder-Barrow 21-0 in the third period with the help of a defensive touchdown and held on to prevail 28-14 in a preseason scrimmage at War Eagle Field.
"We kind of challenged [our guys] to play better than we did in that first half, especially execution-wise," South coach Jeff Arnette said.
"It was really, really a good third quarter defensively and offensively."
Both teams turned the ball over twice and were plagued by penalties throughout the game, but South’s defense made up for its mistakes by consistently disrupting plays in the backfield.
"They did a great job of keeping us off balance, defensively, bringing pressure and mixing up where the pressure was coming from," Winder-Barrow coach David Wagner said. "I knew [South Forsyth] would make us better going into the season, and I feel like we can take that away and build on it."
Eddie Mirynowski made one of the first big defensive plays for the War Eagles, recovering a Winder-Barrow fumble at the Bulldogs’ 35-yard line midway through the first quarter.
Three plays later, South quarterback Jantzen Jeffrey faked a handoff and ran 24 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown that put South ahead 6-0.
South remained ahead 6-0 until running back Sam Walker took a pitch left into the end zone with 4:40 remaining in the third quarter. Walker also had a 16-yard run to the left to get the drive started.
The War Eagles struck again a little more than three minutes later after forcing the Bulldogs to punt on the ensuing series. Jeffrey took a quarterback keeper 20 yards down to the Bulldoggs’ 1 before punching the ball into the end zone on the next play.
Defensive lineman Manny Godswill tacked on South’s final points with 17 seconds left in the quarter, when he came up with the team’s second fumble recovery of the night — a bounding ball that bounced up into his hands — about five yards from Winder-Barrow’s end zone and took the ball in untouched.
Arnette said he was pleased with the effort of his entire defense, which featured some second-tier players playing alongside starters throughout the first three quarters.
"Even with the [starters] we had a lot of our [reserves] playing [at the same time] to get a look at them on film," Arnette said. "It looked like that first and second bunch really played well."
South’s starters were on the bench by the start of the fourth quarter, and Winder-Barrow broke through for a pair of late touchdowns. Andre Scott got the Bulldoggs on the scoreboard with a nine-yard run with 9:07 remaining, and quarterback Christian Hodge took a keeper run 20 yards to the end zone with 3:10 left.
Arnette pointed to the play of his kicker, senior Brandon McKee, as a big factor in the game. McKee repeatedly forced the Bulldogs to attempt long drives.
"Our kicker kicked the ball into the end zone every time," Arnette said, "and I don’t just mean in the end zone, [I mean deep into it].
"That’s such a weapon. I thought McKee just really, really stood out for us tonight. When [the opposing team] has to start from their 20 every time, it’s big."
South has two weeks to make tweaks before hosting Northview at War Eagle Field on Aug. 31.
Lambert vs. Lanier
The Lambert defense was the story of the night in a scrimmage against Lanier.
Conner McCann, Trey LeBlanc, Logan Wood and Mitchell Gargosh caused havoc for much of the night against the Lanier quarterback as Lambert prevailed 24-7 on Friday at The Horn.
"The defense played a good game," Lambert head coach Sid Maxwell said. "I don’t want to tip my hat to them too early though. I first want to see what they can do against Etowah.
"We are a work in progress. I wanted to see new people in new positions. I know what my older guys can do, so I wanted to see what everyone else had. The most important thing [in the game] was that nobody got hurt."
Lanier struck first with a 65-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Grant to Jahbril Jones with only 50 seconds remaining in the first quarter to claim an early 7-0 lead.
Despite allowing a first quarter touchdown, the Lambert defense held Lanier to only one first down and 16 yards prior to the score.
Brock Maxwell started at quarterback for Lambert before Chandler Register replaced him after the second offensive series. Register sparked the offense as he ran almost untouched for a 49-yard touchdown after a fake handoff on the first play of the second quarter to tie the game 7-7.
After a quick three-and-out by the Lambert defense, running back Reid Gill took the handoff from Register and scampered 71-yards to the end zone, making the score 14-7, where it remained until the third quarter.
"The offensive line did a great job of giving me time," Register said. "I want to do whatever I can to help the team out. Whether I’m at wingback or quarterback, I’m going to do whatever you need me to."
Lambert’s offense only attempted four pass plays on the night, completing just one for seven yards.
Senior running back James Little picked up the slack as he pounded the ball for 85 yards on 14 carries. Little accounted for five first downs for the Longhorns.
"I just had fun out there," Little said. "I could tell my hard work paid off. I’ve been in the weight room almost every day and have more muscle than I used to. I can push the pile."
Midway through the third quarter, junior quarterback Hayden McCloud got in on the action as he ran the ball for a 19-yard touchdown, boosting the score to 21-7.
Ryan Karjala easily nailed a 28-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to cap a 10-play, 77-yard scoring drive with 10 minutes left in the game to extend the lead to 24-7.
Lambert sophomore Patrick Noble put the finishing touches on the scrimmage with an interception in the final minutes of play. Noble’s interception was the exclamation point for a Lambert defense that allowed only four first downs in the second half.
"It felt good tackling people," Gargosh said. "We did a good job getting to the ball. I hope this is a sign of good things to come."
Lambert will travel to Etowah on Aug. 31 for its first regular season game.
Forsyth Central vs. Milton
Forsyth Central gave itself a tough test two weeks ahead of the season opener, facing a Milton squad stacked with several Division I recruits.
The Eagles proved they are more than just a talented team on paper, handing the Bulldogs a 42-7 loss in a preseason scrimmage Thursday night in Cumming.
"They’re a very talented football team," Central coach Chris Bennett said of Milton, "but if we want to get better we’ve got to play talented teams."
Junior quarterback Michael Branigan provided Central’s only points of the night, plunging into the end zone from a yard out in the second quarter.
Branigan is in his first season under center, taking over after the departure of three-year starter Spencer Transue. Branigan spent time at running back last season, but Bennett said his competitive drive makes him a good fit at quarterback as well.
"Michael’s greatest asset is [being] a competitor," Bennett said, "whether it’s football or basketball or tennis."
Bennett said missed assignments proved to be the biggest struggle Thursday night for a Bulldogs’ squad that features a lot of new faces this year. Central lost more than 20 seniors following the 2011 season.
But the coach pointed out that the Bulldogs’ meeting with Milton was merely a practice run, and that they have two more weeks to iron out their weaknesses.
"The great thing about a scrimmage is that it is a scrimmage," Bennett said. "We’ve got two weeks before we play North [Forsyth] to work some kinks out.
The Bulldogs host North in the season opener on Aug. 31.
North Forsyth vs. Riverwood
Riverwood carried an 18-3 lead over North Forsyth into halftime Friday night in Coal Mountainbefore the two teams substituted numerous backups for the remainder of the game.
"It was typical preseason game — kinda sloppy," North coach Blair Armstrong said. "We did some good things. We didn’t show all our plans but we tried to keep it basic and be successful with the little things."
The North defense started the game bending but not breaking, after Riverwood drove the ball down the Raiders’ 2-yard line. On fourth and goal, quarterback Buck Woodcox was stuffed in the backfield for a loss by senior defensive lineman Evin Dizdarevic to force a turnover on downs.
That stop only delayed Riverwood’s first points, as defensive back Marcus Rosser picked up a North fumble early in the Raiders’ ensuing drive and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown.
North responded with a good drive — taking the ball 67 yards in 15 plays — but was forced to settle for a Vince Sciorrotta 20-yard field goal on the first play of the 2nd quarter.
"We had a great drive and turned the ball over and had another drive fizzle out," Armstrong said. "We can’t turn the ball over. We’re not a team that flies up and down the field. We’ve got to execute when we get to the end of the drive and not let it fizzle out."
Riverwood added two more touchdowns in the first half behind the legs of Woodcox.
North opens the season against county rival Forsyth Central on Aug. 31 at the Bulldogs’ field.
Pinecrest Academy vs. St. Francis
Quarterback Jimmy Strom ran the ball for three scores as Pinecrest took care of business against St. Francis 30-14 in a scrimmage on Friday night in Alpharetta.
Pinecrest led 14-7 at the half and scored another touchdown and field goal before the junior varsity entered to play the fourth quarter, where they scored a touchdown.
"Our whole team played great," Pinecrest head coach Todd Winters said. "Their head coach came up to me tonight and said, ‘You physically dominated us upfront tonight.’ And that’s what I asked the kids to do. That meant a lot to me because that’s what I asked from the kids."
Pinecrest completed only one pass all night, but Winters said the offensive line provided good protection.
"I thought that when we threw that we had guys open, but we’re a triple-option team."
Winters was pleased with the way his defense remained disciplined in its assignments against St. Francis’ triple-option offense.
"They had one explosive run against us, but we were in position to make the tackle," Winters said. "Overall, we played pretty well."
Pinecrest will open the regular season against King’s Ridge at home on Aug. 31.