Drew Southern was thinking only one thing after he caught the interception.
Southern jumped the route, picked off Walton quarterback Jeremy Hecklinski and raced 66 yards into the end zone for a game-changing touchdown. It was the first of three second-half interceptions that West Forsyth used to rally past Walton, 24-21, on Friday night.
“They’ve been running slants all night. I was kind of behind on some of them, and I finally stepped in front of it, caught it, and I ran,” Southern said. “Just run, run, run.”
Walton answered with a 59-yard score three plays later when Hecklinski found running back Braylen Stokes on a wheel route to grab a 21-14 lead.
But Hecklinski threw two more picks – one to Raleigh Herbert and another to Kyle Peterson.
West Forsyth immediately capitalized on Herbert’s interception, as backup quarterback Ashton Van Horn fired a 28-yard TD strike to Oscar Delp on the first play of the drive to tie the game.
Kicker Alex Wilson knocked a go-ahead 19-yard field goal through the uprights with 1:47 left in the game, then Peterson’s pick on the next play from scrimmage sealed the win.
“I give every bit of credit to those kids,” West head coach Dave Svehla said. “You get down get down 14-0 and you’re playing with a backup, who quite frankly has not been getting very many reps in practice, but the thing about Ashton is, he’s been working at receiver and he’s in tune with the gameplan. He kind of knows what’s supposed to be happening out there. I thought he did a really good job. I thought our defense was phenomenal in the second half.”
West played without starting quarterback Keegan Stover for the final three quarters Friday after the Wolverines’ promising sophomore quarterback hurt his throwing arm.
Stover scrambled for 23 yards on a third-and-5 in the first quarter, converting the first down while lowering his shoulder into a Walton defender at the end of the run.
“I think we’ll look at that on film and we’ll talk about different ways to handle that play, but the kid is a competitor and he wants to make plays,” Svehla said. “I like that part about him – we’ve just got to make sure that we channel it.”
Van Horn completed just one of his first six attempts, but he settled in to finish 7-of-15 passing for 113 yards and the touchdown to Delp. Van Horn seemed to be at his best when it mattered most, completing 3 of 4 passes for 29 yards on the drive that set up Wilson’s game-winning field goal.
Southern knows how Van Horn felt. Southern is the one who stepped in at quarterback the past two years after starting quarterback Blake Whitfield suffered back-to-back season-ending injuries.
“It was kind of like déjà vu,” Southern said. “I know what he was thinking, because you don’t expect that coming into the game, but he did an amazing job. You couldn’t have asked for anything better from him.”
Southern and the West defense held Hecklinski to 10-of-25 passing for 154 yards, with more than a third coming on the 59-yard TD pass to Stokes.
“Outside of that, I thought our kids played fantastic in the second half. Just really courageous, really gutsy,” Svehla said. “The kind of team you love to coach.”
Stokes rushed 21 times for 93 yards but was outgained by West running back Daba Fofana, who carried the ball 31 times for 113 yards, including a 2-yard plunge from the wildcat formation just before halftime.
Fofana fumbled twice in the first half, and Stover threw his first interception of the season on West’s first drive, as the Wolverines committed three first-half turnovers.
But Fofana was steady after his second turnover, converting three third downs, including a 2-yard run on third-and-2 late in the fourth quarter during West’s game-winning drive.
West defensive back Dalton Tjong nearly had an interception on a third-and-12 in the third quarter. On another occasion, Tjong combined with Southern to break up a pass across the middle of the field, with Tjong delivering a crushing blow.
“Those are two of our four captains, and there’s a reason, because number one, they both work their tails off and they don’t say a word. They are extremely coachable,” Svehla said of Southern and Tjong. “Number two, they’re also really good football players. They have tremendous football IQ and instincts because they’re good athletes, but they’re really seeing what’s happening in front of them and anticipating things. When you see them make plays, it’s not necessarily because they outathleted anybody. It’s because they outthought them.”
West (2-1) will travel to Mill Creek at 7:30 p.m. Friday before opening Region 6-7A play against North Forsyth on Oct. 16.
“I think we’re not at our full potential yet, but as the season goes, we just want to keep climbing and keep getting better,” Southern said. “Once region play hits, we want to be at our peak performance.”