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Football: West falls in thrill-packed showdown with Hewitt-Trussville
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West Forsyth's Stephon Bland breaks free for a run during the Wolverines' game against Hewitt-Trussville (Ala.) on Aug. 31, 2018 at West Forsyth High School. - photo by Michael Chung

With less than three minutes to play on Friday night, West Forsyth’s football team was on the cusp of shocking the rest of the county, and perhaps some others across the Georgia-Alabama line.

Stephon Bland, who had carried the Wolverine offense throughout the night, had just powered forward to his most physical run of the game, breaking tackles and pushing himself into enemy territory. All West needed was a touchdown and a two-point conversion, and its contest against one of the top teams in Alabama would be tied.

A few plays later, the hopes of an upset all but vanished, as the Wolverines lost a fumble and watched Hewitt-Trussville return it to their own red zone.  West Forsyth was eager to prove it was no pushover. The Wolverines accomplished that mission, even if the result on the scoreboard just barely eluded them, with West falling 38-30.

“I just told them, ‘I’m proud of you,” West head coach Shawn Cahill said. “’You made your school proud, you made your community proud, you represented the county well (against) a team that was nationally ranked.’ I’m disappointed because I feel like we let them off the ropes a couple of times and gave them some plays. You make two mistakes against a very good football team like that – you can’t do that.”

West’s quest for an upset did not start well. On the opening kickoff, Hewitt-Trussville’s Ja'varrius Johnson, an Auburn commit, found an open hole down the sideline and evaded a tackle en route to a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown. West trailed 7-0 after just 13 seconds.

“It was the same thing that happened against Camden two weeks ago in our first game,” Bland said. “We had to let it go and keep going.”

West initially couldn’t respond, punting after a three-and-out on its first drive. However, during the Huskies’ first offensive series of the game, West’s Jack Hughes knocked the ball free and the Wolverines recovered at Hewitt-Trussville’s 43.

The Wolverines parlayed the Huskies’ turnover into points a few plays later after a pass interference penalty, with Derek Hughes emerging from the line and rumbling for a 20-yard touchdown run. With 6:01 left in the first quarter, the game was tied up at 7-7, and the thoughts of an upset didn’t seem quite so out of reach.

On the ensuing Hewitt-Trussville drive, the Huskies made it all the way to West’s 10 yard line, but the Wolverine defense was able to force a stop and make their opponent settle for a 24-yard field goal. Hewitt-Trussville led 10-7, but it was West that held the momentum.

To start the second quarter, West went on a long drive that ended with quarterback Blake Whitfield threading the needle to Bland for a 7-yard score, retaking the lead at 14-10 after a PAT. That drive was aided by some costly penalties by the Huskies, who struggled with flags throughout the game. The Huskies totaled 22 penalties for 184 yards, which only aided West’s upset bid.

“When they made their mistakes, we capitalized on them,” Cahill said. “They did the same to us, and we just made one more mistake than they did.”

With three minutes to go in the half, the Wolverines made the first of two mistakes that would come back to haunt them. With West set up at the Huskies’ 29 yard line, Whitfield was picked off and the ball was returned to his team’s own 16. Hewitt-Trussville took full advantage of the miscue, scoring a go-ahead touchdown for a 17-14 halftime score.

Much like the first half, the second opened with fireworks, but this time from both squads. On West’s first play from scrimmage, Bland found a hole up the middle and turned on the jets, sprinting down the center of the field for a 61-yard score.

Not to be outdone, Huskies quarterback and Alabama commit Paul Tyson found Johnson on Hewitt-Trussville’s first offensive play. Bland responded with a 38-yard run on West’s third play of the ensuing drive, and just 34 seconds into the second half, the score had ballooned to 27-24 in favor of the Wolverines.

“That was crazy,” Bland said. “Both offenses were making big plays, and we knew that coming in, that they had an explosive offense and we knew we had one. We knew it was going to be a high-scoring game.”

After another red-zone stop by the West defense, Parker Hannon gave the Wolverines some breathing room with a 20-yard field goal, extending their lead to 30-24. However, as the West defense began to tire, Hewitt-Trussville pushed ahead, scoring with 23 seconds left in the third and again with 6:30 left in the game before the fumble.

“We had kids playing both ways and they got tired,” Cahill said. “We watched it happen. In the first half, they were getting three or four yards and it turned into five, six and seven. Our kids fought with everything they had – it just wasn’t enough.”

Bland ended his night with 233 yards rushing on 30 carries in just his second game as a starting tailback.

“I think we found a running back that we like, that goes in between the tackles,” Cahill said. “He ran through some people, and he ran through some people who are going to some big-time colleges. He realized tonight that that’s what it’s going to take.”

“Even though we lost, I think we found some things.”