South Forsyth redefined what it means to have a defense completely take over a game, forcing five consecutive Centennial turnovers on its first five possessions to pave the way for a 35-24 homecoming victory on Friday at War Eagle Field.
The War Eagles (6-1, 3-1 Region 6-AAAAAA) defense stole the show early by grabbing three interceptions and creating two forced fumbles, vaulting South to a 28-7 first half advantage.
"Our secondary played really well tonight," South coach Jeff Arnette said. "We’ve had some times where we got beat, but we really worked with those guys. Matt Cira played a great game; he got two picks in the first half and really led the secondary. I was very proud of our defense and our offense just kept turning those first-down markers for us."
The first half performance of the War Eagle defense nearly turned the game into a blowout. After Cira intercepted a Centennial (1-6, 1-3) pass just one minute after kickoff, senior captain Brett Larkin put the War Eagles ahead 7-0 with a bruising 10-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter. On the next Knights’ drive, the South defense forced a huge fumble inside its own 5 yard line as Centennial threatened to score.
The second quarter showcased the quick strike, playmaking ability of the War Eagles as they racked up 21 points in less than two minutes. It all started with the culmination of an 80 yard, 10-play South drive that Isaiah Williams (22 carries, 139 yards, 2 TDs) finished with a 2-yard touchdown rush, increasing the War Eagles lead 14-0.
On Centennial’s first play of the ensuing drive, South junior Drew Witlas jumped in front of a poorly thrown pass, securing the interception and pristine field position for his offense. One play later, Williams surged through the Knights defense again, bullying his way forward for his second touchdown to put South up 21-0.
Seventeen seconds later, Cira intercepted a desperate Centennial deep ball, out-leaping the intended receiver and once again setting up the South offense for more success. A few plays later, the War Eagles capped off another scoring drive with Grant Umberger hammering in a 2-yard touchdown run, pushing South ahead 28-0.
"Coming into the game, we knew effort was going to be a key component to beating [Centennial]," Williams said. "Basically, we just tried to run at them as hard as we could. You can’t really stop the run if everyone is playing as hard as we did. Our whole offensive line was going all out, no quitting from anyone. I’m very, very proud of my teammates and it’s fantastic to be 6-1."
Centennial showed some late signs of life after a much needed change at the quarterback position. Sophomore Tee Holland (13-25, 219 yards, 1 TD) entered the game in the second quarter and gave the Knights a desperately needed spark, throwing a perfect fade route in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown to put Centennial on the board 28-7 before halftime.
The Knights made a late push in the second half with 10 more points to cut the South lead to 28-17, but the early dominance of the War Eagles defense provided just enough cushion to never put the game in jeopardy.
With six minutes remaining in the fourth, South put the game away emphatically with Larkin’s second rushing touchdown, a beautiful counter play that saw him reverse his direction at the line of the scrimmage and win the foot-race to the end zone.
"It was the nail in the coffin," Williams said. "When you get a team that is as athletic as they are and can come back like that, you just have to keep driving and going hard. I told the guys at halftime that we have to fight harder than we’ve ever fought before. All of our other games, we have had to come from behind, so we just kept fighting and fighting."