By Jacob Smith
For the Forsyth County News
DAWSONVILLE — South Forsyth senior Mitch Thompson picked off a Zach Holtzclaw pass in the closing seconds of Friday's game and returned it 99 yards to seal the War Eagles' 63-49 win against Dawson County to open the season.
With South leading 56-49, Dawson County had the ball third-and-goal with 30 seconds left in the game when Thompson delivered the knockout blow off a tipped pass.
Thompson also had a 20-yard touchdown reception and added an 84-yard TD on the ground to lead the War Eagles past the Tigers.
South blocked a field goal attempt on Dawson County's first drive, then Tre Green scored the first points of the game following quarterback Kyle Durham's 44-yard pass to Mason Capers and 29-yard scramble.
Holtzclaw connected with Tyler Lane for a 51-yard touchdown on the second play of Dawson County's ensuing drive to tie the game with 4:10 left in the quarter.
The War Eagles responded with a 70-yard completion to Devin McGlockton on their first play of the drive. After a push off called against South Forsyth, Thompson caught the 20-yard pass for the touchdown with 2:50 left in the quarter.
Isaiah Grindle took matters into his own hands when he returned the kickoff for a touchdown to tie the game 14-14.
The War Eagles capped a 3-minute, 35-point frenzy by both teams with an 84-yard touchdown rush by Thompson with 2:18 left in the quarter.
After pinning Dawson County on its 2-yard line, senior Julian Bolanos sacked Holtzclaw in the end zone for a safety.
The War Eagles had another three-and-out but put the ball on the 4-yard line on another punt.
Holtzclaw’s arm was on display once again, completing first downs to Lane and Max Moon before connecting with Jaden Gibson for the touchdown with just 1:29 left in the quarter.
South took a 26-21 lead into halftime, but not before Dawson County head coach Sid Maxwell sent Caleb Bonesteel out to the field to attempt the rare free kick attempt as time expired.
Holtzclaw’s first pass attempt of the second half was intercepted by Austin Uidel and returned for a touchdown. South converted the two-point play after lob pass to McGlockton, giving the War Eagles a 34-21 lead.
South built a 42-21 lead behind Green's second TD run of the game and another two-point conversion by McGlockton, but Dawson answered with a 30-yard touchdown of its own after Holtzclaw found Gibson for a 30-yard strike.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Durham found McGlockton in the end zone again for a receiving touchdown, pushing the War Eagles lead to 49-28 to start the fourth quarter.
Holtzclaw once again took charge of the offensive and quickly drove the ball back down the field to find Gibson for his third receiving touchdown of the game to bring the Tigers back within two scores with 9:26 left in the game.
The drama was nowhere close to over.
With eight minutes left, Green fumbled on a rushing attempt, which was recovered by Sonnichsen and returned nearly 30 yards.
The Tigers pounded the ball on the ground until Nic Baloga got into the end zone, bringing the score to 49-42 with just 6:05 left in the game. Bonesteel’s onside attempt was recovered by the Tigers, but the referee ruled that the ball did not go 10 yards, giving the War Eagles possession.
South Forsyth once again put pressure on the Tigers defense on the ground, with Gavin Morris adding another rushing touchdown with just 2:32 left in the game, all but ending any hopes of a Tigers victory.
Dawson couldn’t move the ball on offense either, unable to convert, forcing a turnover on downs. However, strange play calls by South Forsyth had Durham throw the ball twice for incompletions on the next offensive possession. A clutch punt return by Sonnichsen put the Tigers in great field position.
Holtzclaw did not miss Gibson in the end zone again for the duo’s fourth touchdown of the game, bringing the Tigers within one touchdown, down 56-49, with just 1:14 left in the game.
Even though everybody in the stadium knew that Bonesteel would attempt another onside kick, that was not enough to stop him from putting the ball right into the chest of Sonnichsen for the converted onside kick attempt.
Gibson ran straight out of bounds after Holtzclaw found him on the first play of the drive. The next play was another completion to Lane, but the Tigers used their second time out of the half after not being able to get out of bounds.
A slant route for Gibson resulted in a first-and-goal reception, with the clock stopping after targeting was called on the South Forsyth tackler, bringing the ball to the 5-yard line.
A pass attempt tipped off Lane’s fingers in the end zone and a failed Sonnichsen rush attempt made it third-and-goal with exactly 30 seconds left in the game.
Holtzclaw looked for the hot hand in Gibson, but the ball would be tipped up in the air and land in the hands of Thompson, who ran the ball all the way back to his own end zone for the War Eagles’ second pick-six of the game and secured the 63-49 victory.
South (1-0) is back in action next week at home again Central Gwinnett at 7:30 p.m. Friday.