In a mob of players, parents and students stood Jeff Arnette – holding back tears, voice cracking from projection. It may have been the most expressive South Forsyth's tenured coach has ever been after a game, and that includes the emotional contests from last year's playoff run.
Yet his expressions weren't surprising. That's because South used its third string quarterback, a former linebacker at tailback and stood up in many short yardage situations to knock off West Forsyth 21-17 on Friday night at home, clinching a No. 2 seed for next week's opening round of the playoffs.
Without Davis Shanley (back) and Cal Morris (collarbone), Cal's sophomore kid brother Drew completed 13 of 18 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown and rushed 12 times for 49 yards and a score. Morris entered the game last week as well, but hadn't played in an environment quite like the South-West game. After all, the pressure was on to avenge a 38-35 loss at West last season.
"I'm having fun," Morris said.
Now the sophomore has to be prepared to lead the War Eagles through the postseason, starting next week when they host Parkview (7-3). With Shanley last year, South (7-3, 4-1 Region 5-7A) advanced to the state quarterfinals and beat two former state champions along the way. Morris is excited for the chance to replicate that run.
"I'm ready," Morris said. "I feel like it was huge to get the feel of playing in an important game like this and hope it pays off."
Arnette pulled the young quarterback aside postgame for a shout out. The coach thinks he's got a good one too.
"He's technically a third string quarterback but that kid can play," Arnette said. "He's prepared just like everyone else and he showed it tonight."
South has had more than one player stand up in the wake of injury. Without Tyler Bowman in the backfield, usual linebacker Julian Mingo got more time at tailback – a position he hasn't played since sophomore year. Mingo had the play of the game, spinning out of a tackle in the backfield and running 58 yards for the go-ahead score in the third quarter.
South's defense held West (7-3, 3-2) to just 103 yards, including negative-16 yards on the ground thanks to sacks from Max Slott, Ryan LaFlamme and Jack Pehrson.
West also gave up two fumbles, including one after entering scoring position at the end of the third quarter. The Wolverines, after suffering tough losses to county rivals Lambert and South, need to bounce back quickly to be ready for the playoffs.
“In a hard fought game like this against a well-coached team that exposes your vulnerabilities, it gives you an opportunity to learn from your failure. It’s on us to learn something from this feeling and this performance tonight,” West head coach Adam Clack said.
West looked like it stole momentum in a span of back-to-back kickoffs. On the last play of the first half Joey Congrove bobbled a kickoff but recovered and ran 87 yards for a score, making it 14-10 South at the half. On the opening kick of the third West again returned deep into South territory, setting up an easy 24-yard touchdown pass from Kiernen Hamilton to Zach Burns.
Mingo's score came moments later, and South used Pehrson’s late sack to stall West's final drive. Morris sealed the game by converting a fourth-and-1 on West's side of the field with less than 2 minutes to play.
Morris opened the scoring with a touchdown on South's second possession following a muffed punt from West. Morris scored from 4 yards, then found Jaylen Pearson for a 6-yard touchdown with just seconds left in the first half.
West's first score came on a 35-yard field goal from Bryce Jones, who also missed from 42 later in the game.
South finished with 191 yards on the ground and 311 total yards, with Jared Honey carrying the most – eight times for just 39 yards. Mingo led South on the ground with 82.