JOHNS CREEK — No coach will ever admit a loss can be a good thing, especially in the moments after an undefeated season receives its first blemish.
Standing in one end zone at Chattahoochee High late Friday night, West Forsyth coach Frank Hepler could see the scoreboard at the other end of the field. The Wolverines’ perfect 2012 had just ended in heartbreaking fashion, a 29-28 loss to Chattahoochee at The Arena on a touchdown and two-point conversion with 38.2 seconds remaining.
"They outplayed us. They made more plays," Hepler said. "Our guys gave a great effort, and if we make the play at the end of the game, we’re happy. But they made the play."
And in making that play — Chattahoochee quarterback Travis Marshall rolling right and diving across the goal line for the two-point conversion — West’s path to the program’s first region title became a little longer. Still, the Wolverines (7-1, 4-1 Region 6-AAAAAA) control their own destiny and can claim the Region 6 title and a No. 1 seed for the Class 6A state playoffs with victories against county rivals South Forsyth and Lambert in the final two weeks of the regular season.
But West did not play its best in losing for the first time in eight games this season. West missed three field goals — including a desperation 51-yarder on the game’s final snap — gave up long kickoff and punt returns, and committed nine penalties for 100 yards. Five penalties resulted in first downs on Chattahoochee scoring drives.
"You never want to lose, but sometimes good teams have to take a loss and learn from it," Hepler said. "I think we are a good team. Our goal is to still win the region and get to the playoffs."
Tied at 21 in the fourth quarter during a back-and-forth second half, the Wolverines marched 80 yards on 10 plays. Quarterback A.J. Erdely drew the Cougars offsides on fourth-and-1 from the West 46 to keep the drive alive.
Jake Wieczorek bounced off the pile at the line of scrimmage four plays later, gaining 25 yards down the left sideline before being knocked out of bounds at the 10. On the next play, Erdely rolled right and hit Wieczorek at the goal line, the 10-yard touchdown pass pushing West into the lead.
Timmy Hartshorn kicked the extra point, making it 28-21 West with 4:27 remaining.
But the Cougars had just enough time to get to the West 8-yard line with 47.4 seconds left. Marshall hit running back C.J. Leggett on a screen pass to the left side, and Leggett slipped down the left sideline and into the end zone to bring Chattahoochee (5-3, 3-2) within 28-27 with 38.2 seconds to go.
Chattahoochee coach Terry Crowder had no doubt he would try to win the game in regulation.
"We did not want to go to overtime with them," Crowder said. "We were tired on defense. We wanted to win it right then."
Tied at 7-7 at halftime, the Wolverines snapped the deadlock on their second possession of the third quarter. West marched 69 yards in 12 plays, bleeding 4:11 off the clock and picking up two first downs on fourth-and-1. Mohamed Camara carried the final seven plays of the drive, scoring on a two-yard run with 2:10 left in the quarter.
Hartshorn kicked the extra point, giving the Wolverines a 14-7 advantage.
Chattahoochee, which was penalized 13 times for 112 yards, scored with four seconds left in the third on Marshall’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Collin Lisa in the back of the end zone. Adam Abdellaoui’s extra point sent the game to the fourth quarter tied at 14.
West answered on the ensuing possession. Wieczorek capped an 80-yard drive with a brilliant run through the Chattahoochee defense, weaving his way to a 33-yard touchdown. Hartshorn’s extra point made it 21-14 with 9:28 to go.
Again, the Cougars had an answer. Leggett caught a screen pass and broke free down the left sideline for a 35-yard touchdown with 8:01 to go. Chattahoochee lined up to go for two points then, but was penalized for a false start. Abedllaoui came on to kick the extra point, knotting the score at 21-21.
The Wolverines struck first late in the opening quarter. West started its second possession at its 10-yard line, but methodically marched through the Chattahoochee defense. Erdely burst free up the middle on a quarterback keeper, gaining 27 yards and giving the Wolverines a first down at the Cougars’ 22.
Three plays later the Wolverines reached the end zone, Camara capping the 90-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown. Hartshorn kicked the extra point and West led 7-0 with 3:11 left in the quarter.
The West defense held the Cougars in check for most of the first half. Marshall, who has committed to Navy, misfired on nine of his first 10 passes. The Cougars did not pick up a first down until midway through the second quarter. Eight penalties for 67 yards in the opening half did not help the Cougars, either.
But Chattahoochee found its offensive stride in the waning minutes of the half. West put together an 11-play drive, but a false start penalty and two incompletions preceded a missed 36-yard field goal. Starting from its 20, Chattahoochee took advantage of three West penalties resulting in first downs, moving to the Wolverines’ 8.
On third-and-7 from the 8, Lisa snared Marshall’s pass in the back of the end zone. Abdellaoui kicked the extra point to tie the game at 7-7 with 25.3 seconds left.
The Wolverines tried engineering a last-second scoring drive, setting up a bizarre ending to the half. Tanner Bridges hauled in Erdely’s pass on first down for a 45-yard gain, moving West to the Chattahoochee 35 with 16.2 seconds left. After an incompletion, Erdely was flushed out of the pocket and threw the ball away in the general direction of a West receiver with 0.5 seconds showing on the clock.
Erdely was called for intentional grounding and, after a brief meeting, the officials signaled time had expired. Chattahoochee headed to the locker room while Hepler argued with the officials, the Wolverines remaining on the sidelines for several minutes before heading off the field.
Erdely completed 15 of 29 passes for 211 yards. Wieczorek rushed for 121 yards on 12 carries and caught seven passes for 83 yards. West finished with 31 first downs, but the Wolverines’ defense allowed 180 yards in the second half after holding Chattahoochee to 78 yards in the opening two quarters.