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Football: Peyton Streko carries Wolverines past Bears in thriller
Peyton Streko 09-09-22
West Forsyth's Peyton Streko breaks free from the Cambridge defense during a non-region matchup Friday at home. (Photo by Kevin O'Brien)

West Forsyth took the lead six different times against Cambridge. The Bears answered each of the first five with touchdowns of their own on the ensuing series.

Finally, on the sixth time of asking, the Wolverines made a stand to preserve a 42-35 lead and allow Peyton Streko's fifth rushing touchdown of the game to count as the winner.

With Cambridge looking to overcome back-to-back crushing holding penalties, William Orris broke through the line of scrimmage and stripped the ball from Bears quarterback Preston Clemmer. Wolverines senior Brady Gillis picked up the ball on a dead sprint and flipped the field, setting up West Forsyth to run out the final 3:27 of a wild fourth quarter.

“I’m very happy for the kids, because they do work their tails off,” Wolverines head coach Dave Svehla said. “They practice hard. They prepare well. They play hard.

“We’ve lost a couple games that we had opportunities to win. We just made mistakes when we couldn’t. I told them tonight, ‘When it came down to making a big play, the past couple of weeks, it was our opponent. This week, it was us.’”

The whirlwind finish started in earnest with Cambridge scoring in the waning moments of the third quarter, knotting the score at 21-21.

At that point, each team had scored a solitary touchdown in each quarter. West Forsyth took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, a 14-7 lead in the second and a 21-14 lead in the third.

Every time, the Bears would respond.

Naturally, the Wolverines scored on the first play of the final stanza, with Streko finding the end zone from 2 yards out. However, one of the biggest plays in a roughly nine-minute sequence full of them came just prior to Streko's third touchdown.

On a play that surely gave West Forsyth fans flashbacks to a game-changing play from a Week 2 loss to Marietta, the Wolverines fumbled on the kickoff.

But this time, the ball bounced fortuitously into the path of Hunter Green. The sophomore sprinted 30-plus yards down the sideline before being knocked out of bounds.

A facemask personal foul against Cambridge would have negated the fumble had the Bears recovered, but thanks to Green's big play in addition to the penalty yardage, the Wolverines started the drive at the 11-yard line.

“Kudos to Hunter Green for having the wherewithal not only to pick it up but also to make an outstanding run after the play,” Svehla said. “To give us that field position was great.”

Cambridge (2-2) needed barely 90 seconds to even the score at 28-all. After the Wolverines went ahead on Streko's 62-yard score, the Bears needed only a minute to create parity once again.

Both of those Cambridge possessions nearly started with turnovers. The former involved the Bears recovering their own fumble, and the latter saw the Wolverines drop a potential interception.

But following yet another touchdown run by Streko, this one a 3-yarder, West Forsyth (2-2) managed to force the turnover needed to help seal the win ahead of its non-region finale against Cherokee next week at home.

“Cambridge is a really good football team,” Svehla said. “They’re big, and they’re strong. Their running back is really good, and their quarterback played really well. They’re hard to stop. They do a lot of things, and they do a lot of things well.

“We hung in there. Brady Gillis made a huge play when we needed it at the end of the game, and honestly — they would probably tell you the same thing — you knew it was probably going to come down to a play like that.”

Gillis produced another key play in the game, as well.

With the Bears aggressively going for it on fourth-and-short on their own side of the field, the senior wrapped up running back Christian Isibor and slung him to the ground for no gain.

That turnover on downs led to the lone non-Streko touchdown and a 21-14 edge for the hosts.

Facing third-and-5 from the 8-yard line, quarterback Jack Tomlinson dropped back to pass. The senior looked set to get sacked from behind, but the Cambridge defender didn't wrap up on the hit, allowing Tomlinson to squirt free and run into the end zone.

“Our offensive group, I thought, was awful last week against North Forsyth,” Svehla said of the unit that finished with negative-6 rushing yards against the Raiders. “We really felt like we wanted to redeem ourselves. I was really proud of our guys up front just going at them. I thought we were much more physical this week than we were last week. We made a lot of improvements from last week to this week.”

Peyton Streko touchdown 09-09-22
West Forsyth's Peyton Streko stares down a Cambridge defender after scoring one of his five touchdowns during a non-region matchup Friday at home. (Photo by Kevin O'Brien)
While his blockers, including slot receivers Will Fulkerson and Lincoln Nelson, certainly did their part, Streko, unequivocally, put together one of the best offensive performances in program history. Even still, he fell shy of matching his own West Forsyth single-game record of six rushing touchdowns, set last year against Walton.

The Air Force Academy commit rushed 32 times for 327 yards — 23 shy of the school record set by Ben Emert. He also accounted for 30 of the Wolverines' 36 receiving yards, turning his lone reception on a well-executed screen pass into a huge gain to set up his first score of the evening.

After Stekeo's initial 5-yard touchdown had been canceled out by Isibor's 44-yard scamper to pay dirt in the first quarter, he broke off his longest play of the night — a 72-yard highlight-reel run — in the second period.

Cambridge, which lost 17-15 to Denmark two weeks ago on a field goal as time expired, tied the score again at 14-apiece with just 20 seconds left in the first half.

Streko tried to answer back, rushing for 10 yards and receiving an extra 15 after seeing his helmet ripped off. On the ensuing play, which started with just five seconds on the clock, Streko gained 10 yards before being tripped up from behind.

In the aftermath, Streko received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that was assessed on the second-half kickoff. Svehla said neither he nor any of his assistant coaches spoke with Streko about the incident in the locker room.

“We don’t say much to Peyton,” the third-year head coach said. “Peyton is a mentally tough football player. He’s a physically tough football player. We coach him in terms of things to look for, but in terms of preparedness or recovering after a kid messes with his helmet, we don’t need to coach him on that stuff. He’s zoned in.”

Streko came out of halftime and let his game do the talking in the form of a fourth-quarter hat-trick of touchdowns. A remarkable achievement in any scenario, but particularly so in this instance, when Streko might not have been at full strength.

“Quite honestly, I don’t think he was 100% healthy,” Svehla said. “I think he was a little bit gimpy at the end. The thing he made sure of was that we got positive yardage. Last week, we had a lot of negative-yardage plays. …

“I was really proud of him for persevering. He carried a large burden tonight. That’s what he wants. That’s who we are. He’s going to get tired and get worn down, but hopefully, he’ll be healthy and ready to roll next week.”

*This article has been updated to reflect Peyton Streko's official rushing stats, as recorded by West Forsyth director of football operations Daniel Davis.