JOHNS CREEK — The 26-0 final score at the Coliseum on Friday doesn’t come close to indicating how tight the game was for most of the night.
South Forsyth played its scrappy best against Johns Creek, but couldn’t get a single big play on offense and allowed two touchdowns down the stretch to let the game slip out of reach.
"They fought their hearts out," South head coach Jeff Arnette said. "We just put our defense in a couple of bad situations, and they got tired there late."
South (0-5, 3-5 Region 6-AAAAAA) remains winless in region play. The loss was also the second time the War Eagles have been shut out during their current five-game losing streak.
The War Eagles’ offense struggled to move the ball with any consistency, and couldn’t cash in on their modest scoring opportunities. Backup quarterback Eddie Mirynowski, filling in for injured starter Jantzen Jeffrey, hit Sam Walker for a 15-yard pass on the first play of the game, but that was the only first down the offense picked up until late in the second quarter. It also proved to be the longest play from scrimmage until late in the fourth quarter.
South was gifted a scoring chance midway through the second when the Gladiators (7-1, 4-1) muffed a bouncing punt and the War Eagles recovered at the Johns Creek 26.
Walker carried for nine yards on first down, but an illegal shift penalty set them back five yards on the next play. After two more rushes gained the five yards back, Arnette opted to leave the offense on the field to try to pick up the first down rather than try a 34-yard field goal. Walker was summarily stuffed in the backfield for a turnover on downs.
"We were down two scores, and we were struggling to move the ball," said Arnette of his decision to go for it. "You just feel like you’ve got to go for it to try to get the touchdown."
Arnette pointed to another opportunity missed in the third quarter that had an even bigger impact on the game.
Trailing 13-0, the South defense forced a three-and-out on Johns Creek’s opening possession of the second half, and the War Eagles went to their power-set offense.
Using read-option plays between Brett Larkin and Isaiah Williams, the War Eagles put together their first sustained drive of the night, stomping from its own 28 to the Gladiators’ 30 on 11 straight running plays, including a conversion on fourth-and-short in their own territory. Arnette opted to go for it again on fourth-and-2, and Williams broke around right end and sprinted to the end zone.
But the play was called back due to a holding penalty, and Mirynowski’s pass on fourth-and-long fell incomplete.
"That holding penalty changed the whole ballgame," Arnette said, noting that Williams was several yards downfield and into the secondary when the flag was thrown. "If that touchdown counts it’s a 13-7 game. It was a devastating play."
Facing a tiring defense, Johns Creek was able to come back with a killer blow on its next drive, highlighted by a 28-yard pass completion against three-deep coverage on a third-and-23 play. Chase Solomon went on to cap the drive with an eight-yard touchdown run with 11:23 to go in the game. The Gladiators tacked on one more score with 2:11 to go, taking over on downs after a pass-heavy drive and moving 39 yards on seven plays to the end zone.
Mirynowski finished the night 9-for-24 through the air for 115 yards, though most of the yardage came on the final drive.
South will try to play spoiler in the 6-AAAAAA race on Friday against West Forsyth.