South Forsyth made a statement against the No. 6 ranked team in Class 7A on Friday night, beating South Gwinnett 39-20 at War Eagle Stadium.
South (3-1) is familiar with playing in big games against teams that are highly touted around the state. When the War Eagles saw that South Gwinnett was ranked No. 6, it brought them back to last season when they played three straight elite football programs in the state playoffs. It brought them back to being invited to the Corky Kell Classic, where South began the season with a loss to Hillgrove. South was not afraid of the number next to the name. The War Eagles saw it as another way to put themselves on the map.
The upset started with the first play of the game. Davis Shanley found Jared Honey on a quick screen play that turned into a 35-yard gain. Just three plays later, Shanley ran in the first touchdown of the game, giving the War Eagles a lead that lasted the entire game.
South Gwinnett’s only successful drive of the first half came immediately after South’s. A passing touchdown ended their eight play drive, tying the game at six.
After only five minutes and 12 plays, both teams managed to score. The game had the feeling of a barnburner, but once South receiver Jaylen Pearson made three defenders miss on his way to giving South a 12-6 lead, the defense changed the direction of the game.
South Gwinnett’s offense was built primarily on outside run plays and option reads. South’s defensive line began to pick up on their repetitive scheme. South Gwinnett closed the half with three three-and-outs and a fumble.
“The game plan going in was to move our defensive lineman against those guys and cause problems with our speed,” said head coach Jeff Arnette. “We aren’t very big up front, but we are quick. We utilized that tonight and caused them problems.”
When South running back Jake Nicholas fumbled the ball late in the second half, it seemed like South Gwinnett finally caught a little bit of a break. Instead, the Comets fumbled it right back to the War Eagles on the very next play. Shanley ran it in from four yards out to capitalize on the mistake, making the score 25-6.
The War Eagles were beyond dominant on offense, never punting the ball with their starters in.
The second half told the same story. South Gwinnett had one successful drive, resulting in a touchdown, but they also turned it over on downs and punted it away.
South pulled its starters with six minutes left up 39-13. Ryan Pontrelli ended with 77 yards and a touchdown on three receptions and Tyler Bowman rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown.
“We’ve talked about it all week, what an opportunity this was to make a statement,” Arnette said. “These guys played an incredible game tonight.”
Shanley, a Western Kentucky commit and reigning county player of the year, found his groove on Friday. He ended the game accounting for five of the six touchdowns, 287 total yards and making huge plays with his feet.
“I’ve grown into my legs and evolved it into my game. Our linemen played great tonight. Our receivers played great tonight. We all did our jobs,” Shanley said. “We wanted to shock the state tonight, and that’s exactly what we did.”