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Football: West Forsyth upends North Gwinnett to reach Elite 8
Wolverines reach quarterfinals for first time since 2011
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West Forsyth players celebrate Friday after beating North Gwinnett 17-16 in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs. Photo by Mitchell Martin

By Caleb Byrd

For the Forsyth County News

Dalton Tjong fielded the kick at the 3-yard line. 

The Wolverines were down two scores late in the third quarter, needing a big play to keep them in the game. 

Tjong immediately started moving toward the right side of the field, looking for an opening. He followed his blockers closely, and after one shifty move near the sideline, Tjong had nothing but green grass in front of him. 

It was an explosive 97-yard score, giving West Forsyth the momentum they needed to upset North Gwinnett 17-16 in the second round of the state playoffs Friday night. 

“You know, our kids have played hard all year,” West head coach Dave Svehla said. “In our nine wins, we’ve been behind 10 points or more at least five times, and we were down 10 tonight. We just don’t quit. It was huge to get that score right before half, and then the big kickoff return by Dalton giving us even more momentum. I’m just so proud. Their defense is so good, but we got some first downs where we needed them, we made some key plays in the passing game, Liam (Badger) made the field goal, and our defense just held on.” 

West’s defense did more than just hold on, though. They effectively silenced an offense that put up over 300 yards and 29 points last week against Cherokee. 

Going into halftime, the Wolverine defense had allowed fewer than 100 yards of offense and only one touchdown. 

Kobe Haynes had two sacks, and Riley McKee and Jay Helstone had one as well. McKee, Kyle Peterson, and Hudson Posey added on four tackles for loss, all before halftime. 

Then Drew Southern made a crucial interception late in the second quarter. 

North Gwinnett’s Ethan Washington aired out a deep ball down the right side of the field, and Southern coasted under it, returning it 25 yards before being brought down. 

The interception sparked life into West’s offense. With just over a minute left in the quarter, the Wolverines drove 55 yards down the field, culminating in a 9-yard touchdown pass from Keegan Stover to none other than Southern. 

After halftime, the Wolverine defense allowed one more score and one big play, but came up big when it mattered most. 

Not a single Bulldog pass was completed in the second half, and though Marcus McFarlane pounded the rock for over 100 yards, it wasn’t enough to hold off West’s momentum.

Only one Bulldog drive was successful in the second half. And after Tjong took the kickoff 97 yards to the house, North Gwinnett was left gasping for breath. 

The Bulldogs managed to hold the lead until the last 9 minutes of the ballgame when West senior kicker Liam Badger made a 19-yard field goal to put the Wolverines up by a point. 

The ensuing North Gwinnett drive looked promising, taking the ball 60 yards down the field and chewing 6 minutes off the clock. But after West’s Jace Balter came up with a tackle for a loss, Ethan Washington fumbled the snap on third down, forcing the Bulldogs to attempt a field goal. 

From 35 yards out, senior Cody Leach lined up his kick. The ball was snapped, and Leach sent the ball in the air. But he didn’t get enough leg behind it. It fell just short of the goalpost, and the West sideline exploded. 

West’s next drive stalled out after a defensive stand and smart use of timeouts from North Gwinnett, forcing them to punt with just over a minute left in the game. It all came down to this.  

The Bulldogs handed the ball off to McFarlane, but the defense stuffed him. Then Washington dropped back to pass, but McKee broke it up. Posey came up with a tackle for a loss on the next play. 

Fourth down. 

Washington dropped back in the pocket, scrambled to his left, and slung the ball toward the sideline. West sophomore Greyson Brockman lunged in front of the receiver, deflecting the pass. 

Game over. 

West’s offense retook the field one last time, and Stover took a knee as the crowd counted down the seconds off the clock. The upset was accomplished. 

Stover went 8 of 20 for 90 yards and a touchdown. 

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Photo by Mitchell Martin