By Steven Watkins
For the Forsyth County News
West Forsyth entered Friday night’s matchup at Lambert with a three-game winning streak, yet entered halftime with a 15-point deficit.
A trio of explosive Lambert scores — two of them touchdown grabs by junior wide receiver Kojo Antwi and the third a 48-yard run by senior Jack Stewart — sent the Wolverines into the locker room trailing 21-6.
They responded by scoring 36 straight points — 29 of them in the third quarter alone — notching a 42-27 win and proving unequivocally a week before their region-deciding matchup with Denmark that they’re capable of finding ways to win.
“Our team has had some ups and downs this season just like everybody else,” West head coach David Svehla said. “Everybody’s gone through weeks where you’re missing guys and that’s just the way this season is going for every team. I’m proud of the way our kids who — maybe didn’t think they were going to play as much and then found themselves playing an awful lot — stepped up and competed and did the best they could for our team.”
One such player on Friday night was freshman running back Ryder Stewart, who finished his night with 158 yards of total offense, including a game-leading 93 rushing yards, despite entering the second half without a single touch.
“William Orris carried the ball 34 times last week against Gainesville and he was an absolute warrior for us, but that’s not what I wanted William to do,” Svehla said. “We told all three of those guys — Kobe (Haynes), William and Ryder — all three of you are going to play in the first half and we’ll see what happens in the second half.”
Stewart’s first touches of the game came on four consecutive carries — a pair of 5-yard runs before then breaking free for both 23 and 13. By the time the Wolverines finished their opening second half drive with a 24-yard connection from quarterback Keegan Stover to tight end Cooper Johnson, Stewart had touched the ball on all but two of the 12 plays involved.
“Ryder didn’t get in the first half, but I did think based on our scheme and the things we came up with at halftime that we thought were going to work, that they kind of fit Ryder’s strengths and the things he does well,” Svehla said. “I thought he did a really good job of getting to the edge, I thought his vision was excellent, and I thought William and Kobe ran really well too. Both of those kids ran hard, but Ryder provided us with a spark tonight.
After a Lambert three-and-out that resulted in both a high snap on the punt attempt and a West Forsyth safety, the Wolverines took over at the Lambert 46-yard line and Stewart went back to work, kicking off the drive with a 25-yard run and culminating with a 9-yard touchdown reception.
“It’s amazing,” Stewart said. “I would never think I would be playing right now as a freshman. It’s a dream come true.”
Despite the shaky start, West’s defense joined their offense in the second-half resurgence, adding seven points of their own on Lambert’s ensuing drive.
On third-and-7 from his own 30-yard line, Lambert quarterback Ashton Smith dropped back under immediate pressure from a host of Wolverines, one of them sophomore linebacker Riley Mckee, who snatched Smith’s throw-away attempt out of the air and returned it 30 yards for a defensive touchdown and his team’s first lead of the night.
“Those receivers are really, really good, and we were worried about giving up big plays,” Svehla said. “We had talked all week about tackling them, keeping them in front of us and making them run another play, and in the first half we didn’t do that. I thought in the second half we covered better, we put more pressure on them. They also ran the ball decent at times in the first half and I thought in the second half they struggled to run the ball as well. Our defense got a big pick-six, a fumble recovery, and I was pleased with the way they responded.”
Johnson and Stewart each added another touchdown reception at 53 and 27 yards respectively, while Stover followed his slow first half to finish the night completing 13 of 21 passes for 184 yards and three touchdowns.
West will host first-place Denmark in next week’s regular-season finale with a region championship on the line.
“Denmark is really good, and Denmark is rolling, and Denmark has some outstanding individual players, but also they scheme well,” Svehla said. “They play really good team defense and do a lot of really good things, so it’s going to be a challenge.”