By Steven Watkins
For the Forsyth County News
With a little more than three minutes left in the first half of Friday night’s Region 5-7A matchup at South Forsyth High School, the Forsyth Central Bulldogs sat with a 14-7 lead over their hosts in a game that both teams desperately wanted — both for the playoff implications and the pride accompanied any time two familiar region opponents meet on an early November Friday.
Outside of a few minor exceptions, the Bulldogs had largely accomplished what they’d entered the evening looking to do.
They’d managed to keep the South offense scoreless through the first quarter, taking advantage of a trio of turnovers — each occurring on Central’s half of the field — and made effective enough use of their running game to pound away a pair of scores, a late-half lead, and — outside of a few too many penalties — control of the football game.
With 3:21 left in the half, Central running back Marcus Brown took a pitch to his right and followed a pair of blockers to a second score and Central’s second lead. When the ensuing extra-point bounced its way inward off of the left upright, it looked very much like initial half would end firmly within control of the Bulldogs.
Then they kicked the ball to Colby Cruz.
“It was a pooch kick, and coach (had been) telling me that wherever it goes, I’m going to get it,” Cruz said after the game. “I caught it, saw a little opening, ran into one of my defenders, but saw a little bit of grass on the outside, spun around, bounced out and then there was just grass,” he said.
Cruz spun and juked his way to a 65-yard, game-tying touchdown return, immediately eliminating what had been Central’s second lead of the game and permanently swinging the momentum in South’s direction for the remainder of their eventual 21-14 win.
“Tonight just showed what kind of fight we’ve got,” South head coach Jeff Arnette said. “My hat’s off to Coach Hepler for what he’s done at Central and how he’s turned that program around. We’re sitting here in Week 9, basically playing a playoff game.”
Special teams remained a key factor throughout a night ultimately dominated by defense, with flipped fields and multiple turnovers placing both teams within striking distance well into the game’s final minutes. Less than a minute after Cruz’s game-tying kickoff return, Central found itself once again on the losing side of one such play.
Backed up to their own 14 thanks to a pair of flags, the Bulldogs sat fourth-and-11, looking to punt away the remainder of the half and start the third quarter with the first possession in a tied game. With the War Eagles showing block, the resulting kick sailed high, short, and bounced its way backward to the Central 25, resulting in an 11-yard net punt and another crucial scoring opportunity for South in the waning minutes of the half.
On a third-and-2 with 38 seconds left, South quarterback Joe Slott sold what might have been the most convincing play-fake of the season, getting himself thrown to the grass by a Central defender, but only after feeding teammate and fellow-senior Brett Morlanne up the middle for the final, go-ahead score.
“It really meant a lot for us to get this win,” Slott said following his final, regular-season home game. “This meant so much for our seniors, and it really meant a lot for all of us.”