By Steven Watkins
For the Forsyth County News
While the roster and the players that fill it may be different from those the year prior, the 2018 South Forsyth War Eagles began their season with the same goal as their 2017 region-champion counterparts: finish first.
For some stretches of the opening, non-conference half of the season, the new-look War Eagles still looked every bit the part of the reigning region champs. For others, they did not.
On the visiting side and the losing end of a 36-14 blowout, Friday night’s matchup with undefeated Hillgrove fell emphatically within the latter.
Fresh off of their second, consecutive win and with an extra week of rest, South entered looking to play spoiler for a Hillgrove Homecoming game that began promisingly enough, yet quickly managed to encapsulate the remainder of the evening.
After giving up an initial first down, the War Eagle defense swarmed quick and physical as they had throughout the majority of the season and forced a third-and-long and an ensuing punt.
South’s offense responded by losing 11 total yards and punting, yet after the first of several muffed punt returns, found themselves back with the ball at their own 46.
Two plays later, a broken play and a fumble of their own gave South’s hosts the ball at their 28 and led both to a quick touchdown and a lead that the Hawks would not surrender.
On their third possession of the game, South’s offense finished once again with additional negative yardage and capped the drive off with a high snap on fourth down that resulted in both a safety and Hillgrove’s second score of the evening.
The remainder of the night proceeded in essentially the same fashion, with South’s defense competing admirably given the short fields, miscues and turnovers put forth by their offensive teammates, yet even still committing the occasional missed tackle or blown coverage of their own.
“First off they’re a real good football team and I’m not going to take anything away from them,” South head coach Jeff Arnette said. “We’re just making a lot of mistakes offensively, we’re not making plays when we need to offensively, and we’ve got to do better. I need to coach better.”
South’s offense finished the first half with negative 25 total yards to Hillgrove’s 238. They didn’t pick up a first down until 10:56 in the third quarter. They finished with 134 total yards, with 82 of them coming on a single play. Their first points of the game came on the same play on a third and 15 when quarterback Drew Morris heaved a ball in the direction of Sophomore Mitch Thompson who caught the ball on a deflection off of the defender’s hands and took it 82 yards for the score.
Aside from that play and a slim number of others, Morris, like the rest of his offensive teammates, spent the majority of the night scrambling, losing ground and bottled up by an overwhelming Hillgrove defense.
“We made a lot of mental mistakes,” Morris said. “In my opinion we made lot of mistakes. I think we beat us more than Hillgrove beat us.”
Morris finished the night completing five of 15 passes for 101 yards, thanks largely to the Thompson touchdown reception. South’s rushing game finished averaging less than one yard per carry as a team, with Junior Jordan Brunson leading the way with only 34 yards on his 20 carries.
While creating a fair number of stops in spite of the short fields, the War Eagle defense found themselves beaten repeatedly by timely screen plays, particularly on third downs. Overall, the Hawks’ passing game spread the ball to an impressive ten different receivers for 251 of their 339 total yards.
“We played really, really hard defensively, but at times we even made mistakes there,” Arnette said. “The bottom line is we’ve got to get better.”
With the non-conference half of the season behind them, the now 3-2 War Eagles will play their first conference opponent two weeks from now at Lambert.
“It’s like I told the kids—everything’s in front of us,” Arnette said. “That stuff behind us is not going to take us anywhere. It’s not going to matter if you’re undefeated. We were undefeated last year in non-conference and we got beat in the first round. We’re worried about winning a region championship and winning playoff games.”