South Forsyth benefited greatly from Cal Morris' running ability this season, whether the senior quarterback was squirming away from tacklers, like he did repeatedly in the region title-clinching win over West Forsyth, or using his straight-line speed to score the 75-yard touchdown that sealed the War Eagles' dramatic 30-23 win over South Gwinnett.
But in the fourth quarter of South's first-round state playoff game on Friday against Mountain View, it was Morris doing the chasing, and neither he nor the rest of the War Eagles could catch up.
South was trailing 17-13 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but the War Eagles had advanced to the Bears' 13-yard line. A touchdown would give them the lead, and a subsequent defensive stop was easily imaginable.
Morris tried a screen right. The Bears' Blake Carroll stepped between quarterback and receiver, grabbed the pass and ran 86 yards for a touchdown, with Morris close at his heels but not quite there.
It was the score that buried South, and the War Eagles wound up falling 31-13, ending their season at 9-2. The loss on Friday was their first of the season in regulation.
"We've got a great bunch of seniors," South head coach Jeff Arnette said. "They've had an incredible career, and I'm so proud of them. I just hate that we didn't play better the last time they were on the field."
South came into the playoffs as a No. 1 seed and Mountain View as a No. 4, but it was a tougher matchup for the War Eagles than that gap suggested. The Bears were one of three teams with a 4-2 record in Region 6-7A, and one of those wins was against Mill Creek, which netted the No. 2 seed.
The Bears and War Eagles were a close match from a talent standpoint, and South was also hurt by a few key absences. Senior offensive lineman Jordan Nelson didn't dress out due to injury, and South's run game was much less effective than in games past, with running back Jared Honey totaling 68 yards on 21 carries, less than his typical output.
"They put a bunch of people in the box, and we just weren't able to capitalize on it," Arnette said.
Mountain View's strategy of keying on the run led the War Eagles to throw more, and that area was also affected by a key injury, as senior receiver Ryan Pontrelli didn't dress out. The connection between Morris and Ze'Vian Capers helped South get a number of big plays and important short conversions, but that pairing formed the bulk of Morris' attempts and wasn't enough to keep the War Eagles level.
The score was tied at 10-10 at halftime, with a Honey touchdown run and Alex Hardy field goal accounting for South's points.
The second half hinged on turnovers for the War Eagles: A fumble early in the third quarter led to a touchdown run from Enoch Walters, Carroll's pick-six made it a two-score game, and after another Mountain View interception in the red zone, quarterback Matthew Edwards found Malachi Carter with a 32-yard touchdown pass. South could manage only a field goal in the third quarter.
There were tears shed by both coaches and players and plenty of long embraces in South's locker room after the game. The War Eagles' departing senior class, with players like Morris, Honey and defensive lineman Ryan LaFlamme, accounted for more wins than any other class in the school's history.
"I know (being) the team we are, we'll be able to bounce back from it," Honey said. "The (underclassmen), the juniors, I just told them to remember this feeling and use it as fuel for next year. This long offseason, just think about this feeling and don't let it happen again."
As the players slowly trickled out after the game, a group of parents formed a semi-circle outside the doors of the locker room, cheering anybody who came out.
But that was a definitive step towards letting the season go, and many were loath to do so. Senior lineman Matthew Berry, red-eyed and clad in his letter jacket, was one of them.
"I don't want to walk out that door," he said.