Making consistent plays is extremely important in football, but it’s often big, momentum-swinging moments that make the difference.
South Forsyth seemed to make all of the key plays in taking down Lanier by a 28-0 final score in a season-opening win Friday at home.
The War Eagles needed to take advantage of those types of plays to overcome the absences of several high-profile players, including two-way lineman Nathan Efobi in addition to speedy twins Chris and Josh Nelson.
“I can’t even tell you how proud I am,” South Forsyth head coach Troy Morris said. “We have every excuse in the world to come out here and not play at a high level with the people that we have out. We aren’t making excuses.
“It’s the next man up. The kids have bought into that. We repped a lot of kids in the spring and summer to get them ready. They showed it tonight.”
In the opening period, the War Eagles took advantage of two turnovers to score 14 points. Both of their touchdowns came on third down, albeit under polar opposite circumstances.
Following a near pick-6 by Kai Fernandes on the first Lanier snap of the game, South Forsyth opened the scoring on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Ty Watkins to James Margiotta, who made a remarkable diving grab.
Late in the quarter, the War Eagles faced a third-and-30 situation after Watkins recovered his own fumble at the 10-yard line.
Out of a Lanier timeout, Watkins rolled out to his right and found a wide-open Dash Moore near midfield. The junior wide receiver lived up to his name, sprinting to the end zone for a stunning 90-yard score.
“We work on scramble drills and where guys go when Ty starts scrambling,” Morris said. “[Moore] got free, and they just kind of lost him. It happens sometimes as a defense. It’s tough.
"We ended up finding him there. It was kind of fortunate thing for us. We kind of lucked into that, but we do practice it.”
Neither side scored in the second quarter, but South Forsyth marched downfield on its opening possession of the third period.
Despite being whistled for two false starts on the drive, the War Eagles found pay dirt — yet again on third down. Watkins lofted a ball into the uninhabited middle of the end zone, where Margiotta made a sliding grab to record the 25-yard touchdown.
“Ty had the jitters a little early,” Morris said of Watkins, who completed 9 of 15 passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns. “We were trying to get him to settle down. He knew it. He knew he was pressing a little bit.
“He came out in the second half, finally settled down and played awesome. He relaxed. That happens with quarterbacks sometimes. … In the second half, he played the way he is capable of playing.”
Lanier found itself backed up near its own goal line late in the third quarter.
On third down, the Longhorns decided against utilizing the ground game that had worked well for much of the night. Instead of handing off to either half of its two-headed monster of Kaden Beard and Tojaun Peyton, Lanier dropped back to pass.
The Longhorns quarterback lost his grip on the ball in the end zone, and War Eagles defensive lineman Brady Fogarty recovered, essentially sealing the win with his touchdown.
“Just phenomenal,” Morris said of the defensive performance, which included five forced turnovers. “The effort was unbelievable. Our coaching staff over there had a great game plan. We flew around, Played hard and were just really physical. Just super proud of them.”
While Lanier came up short in Tyler Maloof’s head-coaching debut, the Longhorns did showcase a powerful rushing attack that gave the War Eagles fits at times.
Had it not been for a few costly turnovers and some third-down struggles on defense, Lanier would have given itself a chance to make things interesting in the fourth quarter.
“They had a big offensive line, which was the strength of their team,” Morris said of the Longhorns. “They kind of just leaned on us a little bit, but we made some adjustments defensively. I thought that our guys really responded to it and believed in it. When they got close to the goal line, our guys bowed their necks, kept fighting and kept them out of there.”
Even though the teams seemed to be more on par with each other than the final score would suggest, the War Eagles would have likely cakewalked to victory with a full complement of players.
The performance showcased the depth South Forsyth has at certain positions. Even still, Morris will be thrilled to be able to run some of his studs onto the field as soon as possible.
“The guys who are out are trying really hard to get back,” he said. “They want to be out here so bad. When they start coming back, it’s just going to make us that much tougher, I believe.”
Perhaps all of them will return in time for the War Eagles’ next home game. Then again, that wouldn’t necessarily ensure a speedy comeback, considering South Forsyth’s next four games will be on the road.
The War Eagles aren’t slated to play at home again until Oct. 7, when they host Milton in their Region 6-7A opener.
“We’re not going to be at home for a while,” Morris said. “To start off with a win is always good. The one thing you can’t do is become complacent.”