ATLANTA — This was not like any other win.
That was clear from the South Forsyth football team's ecstatic rush onto the field after Jake Wilson tackled Roswell's Kamonty Jett to end the game in the second overtime, and from the references to the number 27 as the players trekked through the tunnels beneath Georgia State's football stadium.
South Forsyth beat Roswell 17-14 on Friday night in the Corky Kell Classic, defying rankings, predictions and the established order of the Class 7A football scene – everything except their own expectations.
"I believed this much: It felt like we were good enough to win the game," War Eagles head coach Jeff Arnette said. "I think that showed at the end. They believed through the whole game that they could win it, and I think you've got to have that mentality when you play a team as good as Roswell."
Hornets go for it and come up short. FINAL in OT: South 17, Roswell 14. Man, what a game that was. pic.twitter.com/AqQjbkBUAk— Ian Frazer (@ianmcfrazer) August 19, 2017
Roswell, the state runner-up in 2015 and 2016, hasn't lost its status as one of the state's biggest names, even with an abrupt an off-season head coaching change. The Hornets were ranked No. 2 in the state in the first edition of the Georgia Sports Writers Association's rankings, and the Maxwell Ratings projection system made the War Eagles 27-point underdogs.
The actual game was tight and tense the whole way, though. South was the first team to seriously threaten, reaching the goal line at the start of the second quarter. A fumble gave Roswell the ball, though. Two possessions later, Roswell stretched a drive to South's eight-yard line. The Hornets tried a fade to the end zone on fourth and goal, but South's Myles Ellis knocked it away.
The teams went into halftime scoreless, and after two punts to open the third quarter, Roswell struck for the game's first touchdown, with quarterback Cordel Littlejohn finding Walt Warren down the right sideline for a 34-yard touchdown pass.
That score came on a drive where South gave the Hornets 30 yards on penalties – 15 on a pass interference and 15 more on unnecessary roughness, and it wasn't the only near-backbreaker the War Eagles had to fight through.
There was the goal-line fumble, multiple drops from open receivers and what would have been a large gain on a throw from Cal Morris to Ryan Pontrelli later in the third quarter. Morris hit Pontrelli on a wheel route to the right, and while replays showed that Pontrelli had a foot down, he was ruled out.
"We had a lot of things go against us," Arnette said. "We had some close calls go against us ... Our kids just kept fighting and overcame it. Whatever happened, they found a way to overcome it."
South's steadiness in other areas helped offset the bad breaks. Honey was solid at tailback, rushing for 114 yards on 30 carries and losing five yards. Morris, who missed most of last season due to injury, made plays with his arms and his feet, breaking multiple big gains by selling handoffs to Honey. Honey gave the War Eagles their lone score in regulation, on a 18-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
And even with Roswell's offense being led by Cordel Littlejohn, a dual-threat quarterback with multiple FBS offers, the War Eagles held the Hornets to just 73 yards on the ground and sacked Littlejohn six times.
"We knew that if we could make (Littlejohn) scramble, then it would be much harder for him to pass the ball," defensive lineman Ryan LaFlamme said. "So all we tried to do all week at practice was just try to get pressure."
LaFlamme was the War Eagles' biggest contributor in the trenches, racking up seven-and-a-half tackles and three-and-a-half sacks, and he figured into the possession that won South the game.
After the teams ended regulation at 7-7 and exchanged touchdowns to open overtime, South was forced to kick a field goal on its second overtime possession. When Littlejohn tried to scramble on Roswell's next play, though, LaFlamme dragged him down for a loss of 10 yards. After a false start penalty, the Hornets were forced into a fourth-and-long situation. Jett gave the War Eagles' a scare, reversing field on a short pass and coming close to a first down, but Wilson dragged him down near the sideline.
South's goals this season aren't modest: The prospect of besting last year's first-round playoff loss and reaching to the state quarterfinals, like they did in 2015, has been motivating the War Eagles. But on Friday, the underdog role worked just fine.
"I feel like whenever we go against one of these big programs that win a lot of games, we're always known as the underdog," LaFlamme said. "We're kind of just looked at like, 'Who's South Forsyth?' That's why we love these games, because it gives us a chance to put us on the map."