After the South Forsyth football team's win on Friday, Landon Sims carried on his shoulder his reward: A wrestling belt with a faux gold plate, given to South Forsyth football players who cause turnovers. The bling did not belong to the junior safety alone, though.
The War Eagles entered Friday's game at North Forsyth with a 2-0 record in Region 5-7A play, and the Raiders held the same mark. South's defense had shown itself to be one of the county's best units, but facing a North team that had combined to score 103 points against Forsyth Central and Lambert didn't look like a walk.
But South made it so. The War Eagles' defense took over the game, holding North running back Bryson Trigg to 39 yards on 21 carries and grabbing four interceptions from Raiders quarterback Ben Bales. Three of those picks went for scores, and South won 47-10, leaving the War Eagles alone in first place in the region and clinching a playoff berth for the team.
The most notable individual matchup heading into the game might have been at the tailback spot: Trigg and South's Jared Honey were the region's two most productive rushers prior to Friday, with Trigg holding a slim lead.
That phase of the game was relatively inconsequential to the outcome, though. Trigg was largely muzzled, and while Honey wound up with 112 yards on 16 carries, he had just 24 yards in the first half.
A large portion of South's points -- and most of the game's biggest momentum swings -- came on interceptions. The War Eagles heavily pressured Bales and hit him when they could, and their defensive backs capably covered North's deep receiving corps.
"We felt like pressure was the key," South head coach Jeff Arnette said. "That quarterback's really good, and if you sit there and let him throw it, he's just hard to deal with. That's what we were able to do: We were able to get in his face and cause some disruptions there, and it led to several picks."
In the first quarter, on a second-and-28 situation following a holding call, Bales' pass to Raiders receiver Charlie Aiken bounced off Aiken's hands and fell to Sims, who ran 27 yards for the game's first score. South failed to convert on a fourth-and-one later in the first quarter, giving North the ball on the War Eagles' 35, but South cornerback Jake Wilson picked off an underthrown ball on the next play.
South (7-1, 3-0 Region 5-7A) scored two more times, on runs from Honey and quarterback Cal Morris, before North got its first touchdown on a 21-yard pass from Bales to Tristan Howard. North (5-3, 2-1) got a stop on South's next drive and reached the War Eagles' 22 with just under 40 seconds to play, but Wilson made a play again, getting under a high throw and running back 88 yards for the touchdown.
The second half was no better for the Raiders' offense. Arthur Boyzo kicked a 23-yard field goal to make it 26-10, and while North got a stop, its subsequent drive stalled when one of South's rushers batted away Bales' pass on fourth and one. Jared Honey scored two more times, on a 36-yard run and a 15-yard catch, and the War Eagles' got another touchdown on their fourth pick of the night, with Caleb Outlaw running it in.
"We knew they threw the ball a lot, so we expected maybe one or two picks," Sims said. "But not four, and three pick-sixes. That was pretty awesome."
It might have been the premier performance for a defense that hasn't given up more than three touchdowns in a game and has given up just two on defense in region play. South has a relatively nameless defense, without any players with FBS offers -- though Sims has committed to play baseball at Mississippi State -- but in its last three games, the unit has held opponents to their lowest point totals of the year.
"We play as a whole," Sims said. "Eleven as one, and we just get after it. (We're) some dogs out there. We're all out there giving it our all."