NORCROSS -- With the rain slowly intensifying on a soggy, torn-up grass field, South Forsyth head coach Jeff Arnette stood, visibly emotional, with his team surrounding him. In each one of his 10 years as head coach of the War Eagles, it’s the moment he looks forward to the least – the moment that he has to say goodbye.
South certainly had plenty of things to be proud of from the 2019 season. The team extended the county’s longest current playoff streak to six seasons, and did so with a team that lost players to redistricting. The offense was a consistent strength for them throughout the year, but with a 21-0 loss to Norcross in the first round of the Class 7A state playoffs on Friday, that offense was mostly silent as the War Eagles saw their season come to an end.
“It's the hardest time because you're saying bye to these seniors,” Arnette said. “You've been with them for four years. They don't play for you anymore, they move on to go to college and all that stuff. They're family after four years.”
The sloppy field conditions played a role throughout the game, with both teams struggling to maintain control of the ball early on. Most of the first quarter was played in South territory, but the War Eagle defense kept the Blue Devils out of the end zone with a fourth-down stop with 5:19 left in the period.
Quarterback Kyle Durham and the South offense couldn’t advance the ball on the ensuing possession, though, and after getting the ball back, Norcross scored the game’s first points on a 3-yard Jahni Clark score with 2:11 left in the opening quarter. The offense had chances throughout the game but never took full advantage of them.
“We just couldn't move it on offense,” Arnette said. “I have to watch the film, but it being wet didn't help when you're trying to throw. Kyle couldn't get a hold of the ball and it just made it tough to try to throw. We just couldn't put the ball in the end zone, and that was the thing offensively.”
Despite that, South’s defense certainly did its part. Cameron Schurr hauled in an interception to halt a long Norcross drive at the War Eagles’ own 2 yard line in the second quarter, and on the Blue Devils’ first drive of the second half, Alex Stephens picked off another Norcross pass. Stephens also recovered blocked punt at midfield with 6 minutes to play, but South came up empty out of each of those situations.
After South’s offense went three-and-out after Schurr’s pick, Norcross quarterback Mason Kaplan connected on a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Green, and with a minute to go in the first half, Kaplan found Green again, this time for an 88-yard score.
“The game was super, super close until they made a couple of long throws, and that was really the straw that broke the back with the defense,” Arnette said. “The defense, up front, played really good. We stopped the run extremely well, stopped the pass pretty good other than two or three throws.”
Throughout the history of Forsyth County football, there hasn’t been a run of consistent playoff appearances quite like the one South has put together in this decade. Arnette and the War Eagles will have to wait until next year to keep that streak going and perhaps make a deeper run, but for right now, he’s just enjoying the time he has left with his seniors.
“Only one team doesn't lose at the end of the year,” Arnette said. “If you're not that team, you've got to say bye to these seniors with a loss. But what really matters is just how much they've meant to our program through all that our program's been through the last two years. They've done an incredible job with it.”