Offensive mistakes loomed large when South Forsyth went to the locker room at halftime, trailing two-time state champion Norcross even though they had outgained the Blue Devils 214-159 and had a 14-4 advantage in first downs. The story at that point—an interception from quarterback Davis Shanley and a fumble from Stanley Epeagba had stalled an offense that, otherwise, looked unstoppable.
None of that mattered an inch in the second half, because defensive coordinator Jason Nash was plotting havoc of his own. South’s defense scored the final 10 points of the game in the last 24 minutes to earn the War Eagles a 20-14 victory—the first playoff win for South since a 14-7 win over Rome in 2003.
The War Eagles (10-1) advanced to play the winner of Langston Hughes-Tucker, a game played Saturday that ended too late for this edition.
“We focused on us,” Nash said. “We just did what we do. The kids bought in, they’re resilient, and they keep fighting and find a way to win. They’re a great football team.”
South head coach Jeff Arnette felt like his team has been overlooked all season. More importantly, he felt like his team’s ability to win in the postseason without playing a perfect game spoke volumes about its character. Even though the Blue Devils were 7-3 and reeling from three straight losses heading into the game, defeating head coach Keith Maloof, who won state titles in 2012 and 2013, still counts as a breakthrough for not just Arnette’s crew but the perception of football in the county.
“I don’t feel like people believe in us, and that puts a chip on our shoulder,” Arnette said. “It’s us against them. It’s one of those deals. That’s why I’m so proud. We didn’t play our best game, but we found a way to win, and great football teams always, no matter what, find a way to win.”
After punter Alex Barbir pinned Norcross (7-4) inside its own 2-yard line, a high snap doomed Norcross quarterback Baron Radcliff into a sliding safety to make the score 14-12 with 7:29 left in the third quarter. Then, with 10:19 to go in the game, another bad snap flew over Radcliff’s head, bounced back toward the line of scrimmage and into the waiting arms of Cameron Kline, who shrugged off Radcliff and raced 32 yards to the end zone. Shanley then hit Jalen Camp for the 2-point conversion.
Kline had one of South’s two sacks, while Curtis Roach had the other as well as a late interception at midfield to help fend off the Blue Devils. With 5:32 remaining in the game, South was pinned inside its own 3, but a nine-play drive, featuring Sam Outlaw, took out the rest of the clock. Outlaw put the exclamation point on the game with a 21-yard rush, bulldozing defenders and dragging others. Norcross had three straight stops and thought it would get the ball back with one last chance, but a roughing-the-kicker penalty gave South a first down and Norcross couldn’t stop the clock.
Kline, who also caught three passes for 52 yards, all for first downs, felt like South’s win is a statement to the county to the east.
“(Norcross) was saying before the game, ‘Let’s show them Gwinnett football.’ Forsyth football is no different,” Kline said. “We came out here, got over the hump and got a playoff win. I’m just ready for next week, honestly. I’m so excited. That game was incredible.”
After Radcliff hit Robert Sims for a 23-yard score to make the game 7-0, South responded with an 8-play drive that ended in a shifty 12-yard touchdown run from Epeagba. Radcliff found Ricky Reed on a 25-yard pass for a score late in the half, but the War Eagles responded with a quick drive that ended in a Barbir field goal at the half.
South outgained Norcross 236-224 in the contest, with Outlaw leading the way on the ground with 24 carries for 120 yards. Shanley completed 9 of 18 passes for 101 yards, while Radcliff was 8 of 18 but 0-for-7 with an interception in the second half.