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Football: West wins battle of unbeatens
Wolverines score 34 unanswered points against Gladiators after shaky start
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West Forsyth wingback Jake Wieczorek takes off on a run against Johns Creek on Friday at The Den. West scored 34 unanswered points after falling behind 16-3 and won 37-16. - photo by Jared Putnam

West Forsyth head coach Frank Hepler constantly reminds his players to prepare for those moments in a football game he calls, "sudden change."

One of those moments occurred late in the first half Friday night, and the Wolverines’ response left them holding sole possession of first place in Region 6-AAAAAA.

Down 16-3 late in the first half, Conner Vandenbos’ diving interception sparked a 34-0 surge, as the fifth-ranked Wolverines blasted Johns Creek 37-16 in a matchup of undefeated teams at The Den.

"That gave us some momentum," Hepler said. "You still have to take advantage of those opportunities. We did."

Did they ever. West (6-0, 3-0 region) rolled up 381 of its 595 yards of total offense after Vandenbos snagged Johns Creek quarterback Skye Overton’s pass at the Gladiators’ 25-yard line with 1:47 remaining before halftime. Three Wolverines topped 100 yards rushing — running back Jake Wieczorek (181 yards), quarterback A.J. Erdely (144 yards rushing along with 137 yards passing) and running back Trevor O’Brien (125 yards).

The West defense gave up 498 yards but made big plays throughout the second half. The Wolverines stuffed Johns Creek on fourth-and-1 from the West 15 on the opening play of the fourth quarter. Hunter Belue intercepted two passes in the final eight minutes.

Coupled with Lambert’s loss to Centennial, West now leads the Gladiators (5-1, 2-1) and Longhorns (5-1, 2-1) by one game in the standings. The Wolverines are 6-0 for the first time in school history.

"Every game we have right now is a chance to make a statement," Vandenbos said. "We’re in a new region. We’re in a new classification. But yes, tonight definitely was a statement game."

The statement after Vandenbos’ interception resonated loud and clear. West scored 34 unanswered points in an 18-minute, 45-second span that will be long remembered should the Wolverines win the region title.

"We talk about sudden changes," Hepler said. "A lot of programs would not be ready to react. We were ready to go."

West needed five plays after Vandenbos’ interception to reach the end zone, O’Brien scoring from 2 yards out with 25.5 seconds left before halftime. Timmy Hartshorn’s extra point brought the Wolverines within 16-10.

West took the second-half kickoff and marched 80 yards in six plays. Erdely broke free down the right sideline for a 52-yard touchdown to tie the game with 9:39 left in the third quarter. After a penalty on West resulted in a 35-yard extra-point attempt, Andre Biggins blocked the kick to keep the score tied at 16-16.

It didn’t stay tied for long. West’s defense forced the first punt of the game, and needed just two plays to take its first lead.

Seventy-nine yards came on the first play, with Erdely hitting tight end Ty Anderson down the right sideline. Erdely scored from the 1, and Hartshorn nailed the extra point to give West a 23-16 advantage with 6:25 to go in the third.

The Gladiators used an 11-play drive to move to the West 15 as the third quarter ended. Johns Creek elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 on the first play of the fourth quarter, but West stuffed Overton to end the drive.

O’Brien shook free for a 71-yard scamper two plays later. Erdely connected with Wieczorek for a 6-yard touchdown pass three plays after that, and Hartshorn’s extra point put West ahead 30-16 with 10:55 remaining.

"Up front we felt strong all night," West offensive guard Will Bass said. "We got good blocks on the edges and did everything we needed to do."

Following a Belue interception on the next possession, Wieczorek put the game away with a 60-yard touchdown run with 5:40 remaining.

Coming off a bye week, the Wolverines knew they would have their hands full with Overton. The Johns Creek quarterback lived up to the advanced billing, going 15-for-24 for 226 yards and rushing 24 times for 153 yards.

Combined with the running of Chase Solomon (110 yards on 18 carries), the Gladiators moved up and down the field freely for most of the first two quarters. Overton opened the scoring with a 61-yard touchdown run up the middle on the game’s third play from scrimmage. The extra point failed, leaving Johns Creek with a 6-0 lead just 1:13 into the game.

The Gladiators converted four third-downs on their next possession, a 15-play march that burned 7:21 off the clock. Kyle Fowler kicked a 30-yard field goal to make it 9-0 Johns Creek with 1:57 left in the opening quarter.

Hartshorn put the Wolverines on the board with a 25-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter to bring West within 9-3. Johns Creek responded with an 11-play, 80-yard drive, Solomon’s 22-yard touchdown run up the middle putting the Wolverines in a 16-3 hole with 6:23 left before halftime.

West found itself facing fourth-and-goal from the Johns Creek 1 late in the first half. The Gladiators brought down O’Brien just shy of the goal line to end the threat with 2:35 remaining before halftime.

Three plays later, Overton tried to find a seam in the West defense. Vandenbos reacted, making the play that shifted the momentum and propelled the Wolverines to their sixth consecutive victory and best start in school history.

"This is huge," Bass said. "We know it’s school history. But we are going to keep our eyes looking forward and just try to keep doing what we’ve been doing."

West travels to rival North Forsyth on Friday to face the Raiders.