South Forsyth’s offense provided plenty of fireworks, racking up over 500 yards of offense and hitting on long scoring plays, but it was the will of its defense that kept the War Eagles’ magical season alive, forcing three turnovers in the second half and holding Tucker scoreless in the final quarter to hold onto a 42-35 win to advance to the state quarterfinals for the second time in program history and set a school record for wins in a season.
In two weeks the War Eagles (11-1) have knocked off two teams (Norcross last week) that have four combined state championships since 2008. Now head coach Jeff Arnette and company have their greatest task ahead—they’ll host defending Class AAAAAA state champion Colquitt County (12-0) next week.
“It’s unbelievable,” Arnette said of the season so far. “Getting to do this with these coaches, these players, it’s one of the funnest years I have ever been a part of.”
Both South and Colquitt County are No. 1 seeds from different arms of the bracket, so South won a coin flip following the game Friday night that set up its third-straight playoff game at home. Colquitt County, under eighth-year coach Rush Propst, has reached the state semifinals four years in a row.
After falling behind 42-28 early in the second half, Tucker (8-4) trailed by a touchdown and marched to South’s 6-yard line with less than 3 minutes remaining. On third-and-1, Riley Hall penetrated the defense and stuffed the Tigers 3 yards behind the line. The War Eagles front seven left no doubt on the next play – Max Slott and Julian Mingo stopped the Tigers once more to send the War Eagle Stadium crowd into a frenzy. With one timeout left and 1:38 remaining, Tucker couldn’t stop Sam Outlaw from crossing the orange stick at the 19-yard line and ending the game.
South quarterback Davis Shanley had scoring runs of 68 and 70 yards, while senior backfield mates Outlaw and Stanley Epeagba scored long runs of their own in the third quarter as South outrushed Tucker 415-342.
Neither offense could be stopped easily without getting in its own way.
Tucker was poised to strike first in the third quarter, using a 58-yard rush from Chris Broadwater to enter South’s 10-yard line, but Cameron Kline alertly jumped on a fumbled snap on the next play.
After Kline’s recovery, Outlaw went 87 yards to the house. After Tucker struck back, Shanley took the next South play 70 yards for a score. Three plays later, Curtis Roach intercepted Tucker quarterback Garrett Rigby at midfield. Three players after that, Epeagba went right, made one cut up field and was celebrating with teammates 49 yards later.
The momentum turned back in Tucker’s favor with 2:10 left in the third, when Toki Adeosun fumbled after a first down carry. Rigby hit Joshua Vann on the next play—a 51-yard bomb and fingertip catch—to bring the Tigers within a score.
South’s offense stalled for most of the fourth quarter, but big defensive stops by Kline, Mingo and company prevented Tucker’s offense from reaching the end zone to tie the game.
Mingo finished with two sacks and five stops behind the line of scrimmage.
“Setting the edge honestly made the difference in the game,” Mingo, a junior linebacker, said. “If we could just cut out the outside, we could hold on. It was just clutch, heart and effort from the defense.”
“The defense struggled tonight because (Tucker) has a great offense, we knew that going into the game,” Arnette said. “Going in, we knew that we’d just have to keep scoring. We did that, but in the end our defense got it done for us when it mattered.”
After scoring big runs in both of South’s historic playoff wins, Epeagba, a senior, feels like he and his fellow classmates are simply leaving the legacy set out for them four seasons ago.
“I was thinking about it this week. This class, coach Arnette was talking to us all the way back in the eighth grade and felt like we were a special class. I’m so glad we’ve been able to follow that,” Epeagba said. “I’m going to keep on rolling.”
After falling behind 7-0, South answered when Shanley hit Ronnie Chambliss on a 26-yard tear-drop between two defenders and into Chambliss’ diving hands. Shanley’s 68-yard score gave South a 14-7 lead, but after Rigby hit Vann for a score to tie the game after one quarter, Shanley threw an interception that Jeremiah Shelley returned for a touchdown. Shanley scored from 14-yards midway through the second quarter to tie the game at 21-all.
Shanley finished with 12 carries for 187 yards and three touchdowns, while completing 8 of 15 passes for 98 yards and a score. Outlaw added 112 on 10 carries, while Epeagba finished with 10 for 88.
Tucker was led on the ground by Broadwater, who had 184 yards on just 15 carries. Rigby finished 9 of 14 through the air with 160 yards and three touchdown passes, with Vann catching eight for 104 and two scores.