The South Forsyth football coaching staff does not downplay games.
Friday's matchup at Milton was not just another one: It was a chance for the War Eagles to beat what might be the second-best team in the region, to move to 7-0 for the first time in school history and get closer to a No. 1 state playoff seed.
It might be the biggest game in school history, they said.
"The more you challenge them, the more you put on them, the bigger you make the game," South head coach Jeff Arnette said, "the better they play."
That's not to say that the War Eagles were perfect on Friday — far from it. But they won, 21-13, and now they're one of two teams that remain undefeated in the region.
South has alternated between blowouts and tight battles this year, and this most recent win was the latter. The War Eagles fell behind just under seven minutes into the game when Alex Hardy's punt was blocked, with Milton's Lucas Moore picking up the loose ball and running it into the end zone. On the War Eagles' next drive, quarterback Cal Morris completed a throw to Drew Morris for a first down, but he was stripped of the ball as he went down, and Milton recovered.
The War Eagles' defense stopped Milton (5-2, 1-1 Region 5-7A) on their ensuing possession, though, and that unit would be the stabilizer for South (7-0, 2-0) during the game. South's offense had a productive first half, with two rushing touchdowns from Jared Honey and another from Cal Morris, but the War Eagles were held scoreless in the second half.
Honey rushed 13 times for 73 yards in the first half but was held to 45 yards on 10 carries after the break. Costly drops and two holding penalties, including one that negated what would have been a first-down conversion by Honey, also hurt the War Eagles.
"I don't think we played any less (well) than we did in the first half," Morris said. "We just had a couple of mistakes."
Solomon Vanhorse scored for Milton on an 18-yard run to make it 21-13 with 6:02 left in the third quarter, injecting the remaining minutes with ample tension, albeit without much significant action. War Eagles cornerback Jake Wilson snared an interception to give South the ball with 4:18 to play in the game, but the offense then went three-and-out.
South again stopped Milton, getting a turnover on downs and starting at its own 25, and again couldn't get a first down. Milton had just 18 seconds left at that point, though, and a desperation pass fell short.
This game could very well serve at the de facto region championship game. Arnette didn't assign it that weight, though — he emphasizes games' importance but doesn't let them take away from the significance of future matchups. South still has to face West Forsyth, who lost to Milton by a single score, and North Forsyth, the other team yet to lose in the region.
Those will also important games, and South's coaches won't let the team forget that. It probably won't make much of a difference to their quarterback, though.
"I get about the same level of nervousness before every game," Cal Morris said. "I just play."