West Forsyth’s football team had put in a valiant effort despite their circumstances.
In the wake of a disastrous first four minutes on the road against North Forsyth on Friday night, that’s all the Wolverines could really do — they played from behind for the entire game and gave themselves a chance by the end of the fourth quarter. But still down five points on fourth down from their own territory with just over a minute left to play, the chances of completing the comeback seemed bleak.
Those chances seemed to dip even further right after West quarterback Drew Southern took the shotgun snap and was met almost immediately by a North defender barreling toward him.
Somehow, though, Southern got away and heaved the ball 56 yards downfield to Oscar Delp, suddenly setting up West deep in North’s red zone.
“You don't coach that,” West head coach Shawn Cahill said. “Even when he threw it, I said, ‘Oh no.’ But that's just him. He threw it further than anybody else could, and if anybody was going to catch it, it was going to be our guy. I don't know how he saw him two yards behind him, but he did.”
And two plays later, Southern finally gave the Wolverines their first lead of the night with just 1:01 remaining with a 5-yard pass to Casey Cowart in the back of the end zone. Cowart didn’t have to move much to make the grab, and when he did, he held the ball aloft and took in the sights and sounds of a stunned Raider Valley and the cheers of the teammates that rushed to celebrate with him.
“I thought it was going to get picked off,” Cowart said. “I don't really know how he didn't get to it, but all of a sudden it was coming right to me. It hit my hands and everyone just went crazy. I just kind of stood there and embraced it. It was a cool moment.”
North had one last chance to march down the field for a game-winning field goal, but like it had throughout the second half, the Raiders’ offense sputtered, and after a Dalton Tjong interception, West (4-4 overall, 3-1 Region 5-7A) completed its thrilling finish, a 22-21 victory that handed North (6-3 overall, 3-1 Region 5-7A) its first region loss of the season.
“I'm still shaking right now,” Cowart said. “I just can't believe it. In the first quarter I was trying to see through what was going on, but I never would have thought it would have ended up like it did.”
Cowart had good reason to be a little skeptical. West’s first quarter went about as poorly as it could have gone, with Southern losing a fumble and throwing an interception to North’s Miles Hartsfield. Both of those turnovers resulted in very short fields for North, and the Raiders capitalized on both of those chances with 7- and 1-yard touchdown runs from Jared Lucero and quarterback Brady Meitz.
The Raiders had just 36 yards of total offense after Meitz’s score with 9:26 left in the first, but they led 14-0 regardless.
Early in the second, North went on what would ultimately be its best drive of the game, with Meitz finding Anthony Herock for three first downs. With 10:42 left until halftime, Meitz scored again from two yards out, and West was in a daunting 21-0 hole.
But slowly, West began chipping away, thanks in large part to its defense. The Raiders couldn’t sustain drives, and Wesley Clark scored the Wolverines’ first touchdown on a 2-yard run with 3:36 left in the second quarter. The Wolverines kicked a 30-yard field goal with a minute to go in the first half, and with 1:38 left in the third, Cowart hauled in a 24-yard pass from Southern to narrow the score to 21-16.
Southern threw a second interception to North’s Jumel Lewis with 2:42 left to play, but his team’s defense made the stop to give the offense one last shot.
“It was a rollercoaster from the start,” Southern said.” I started out really bad, kind of found my rhythm in the second and third quarter. I was down a little bit, but the defense was telling me, 'We're going to get the ball back and you're going to score.' They gave me the ball back and I just made the best out of it.”
For North, the loss was a crushing one: It took away the Raiders’ chance at their first region title since 2001 in their tilt against Milton next week.
“You're definitely disappointed,” North head coach Robert Craft said. “You've got a group that's played really hard all year long and worked really hard. They're disappointed and I'm disappointed for them because they put so much work into it.”
West has a chance to secure another home playoff game next week against South Forsyth. Just like last year, it seems the Wolverines are peaking at just the right time.
“They're just a resilient bunch,” Cahill said. “You could sense on the sideline that they never felt that they were out of it in the first half. They just said, ‘OK, we've just got to make a play.’ They just never quit.”