By Patricia Duffy
For the Forsyth County News
After one half of the West Forsyth football team’s game against Roswell on Friday, it was tough to envision that it had a player rush for over 200 yards just a week ago.
The first two quarters of the Wolverines’ 21-17 loss saw them regularly go to the air: Quarterback Blake Whitfield complete 6-of-8 passes for 128 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. By the end of the second half, though it was a completely different story.
Senior running back Stephon Bland, the breakout star from last week’s close loss to Hewitt-Trussville (Ala.) had a slow start to his night, being held to just 35 yards in the first half. Bland was seen seated on the trainers table during the first half, and his week wasn’t the best from a physical standpoint.
“He didn’t feel good this week,” Wolverine head coach Shawn Cahill said. “He missed a day of practice with a sinus infection.”
With Bland dealing with weakness and a shoulder cramp sustained in the first quarter, Roswell jumped to a two-touchdown lead with 3:26 left in the first.
Faced with a challenge, Wolverine junior quarterback Blake Whitfield turned up his passing game, launching a 44-yard touchdown to Casey Cowart with a minute left in the first. After the Hornets answered in the second with another touchdown, extending their lead to 14 points, Whitfield hit another receiver, this time Abraham Camara, for a 46-yard touchdown to bring his team back to a one-score deficit.
“It could’ve been very easy [for them] tonight to just say, ‘Oh well,’ and fold in in the first quarter when they were going up and down the field on us,” Cahill said.
The Wolverines didn’t, though. Heading into the second half, Bland looked at his coach and said, “I’m good now.” It was a vague statement, but Cahill didn’t need an explanation, and Bland returned to the field to rush for 82 yards on 14 carries.
Early in the fourth quarter, Bland darted through defenders, gaining 35 yards and setting the Wolverines up in Hornet territory. With a chance to jump ahead after a third quarter field goal that put West within a touchdown of Roswell, the offense moved down the field.
Two personal foul penalties against Roswell set the team up inside the 10. With 9:10 left, West set up in the Wildcat formation, putting Camara under center. He couldn’t get around the outside, though, and was stopped, causing the Wolverines to turn the ball over on downs.
It was a drive that set the tone for the rest of the game. Despite Roswell scoring all three of its touchdowns in the first half and racking up 11 penalties for 106 yards, West couldn’t fully capitalize.
On one last attempt, with 1:30 left, Whitfield found a hole on third and 13, running down the field and edging toward the sideline. Just before going out of bounds, a Hornet defender knocked the ball free and recovered for Roswell, running it back to the Wolverine’s 16. Meanwhile, Whitfield was severely shaken up on the game-deciding play.
“We’ve got to protect him a little bit better than that, but I think he’s okay,” Cahill said of Whitfield.
Despite moving to 0-3 on the season, Cahill is positive his team’s third loss isn’t a season-defining one.
“I still think, (at) 0-3, we’re still a better football team than we were Aug. 1, when we started,” he said. “I told the kids that we were prepared for this as coaches because we put (them) against three teams that are going to be in the playoffs. They’re very good teams, and they were single-digit losses.”
But it’s going to take all parts of the offense coming together and finishing to earn the Wolverine’s their first win of the season.
“We’re not the most talented, biggest, fastest, strongest team in the country,” Cahill noted. “We’ve got to be able to come out from the start and play 48 minutes… We’ll learn, and we’ll get better. I still think we’re a pretty good football team.”
Meanwhile, Bland, who finished the night with 117 rushing yards, is looking at next week’s game against Peachtree Ridge as a completely fresh start.
“We’ve just got to go in – no losses, no wins – just 0-0,” Bland said. “Try to be 1-0... Try to win out the rest of the season.”