The game lived up to the billing.
After a week that included a rap battle from South Forsyth, a “Game Day” television production from West Forsyth and plenty of smack talk in between, the West community – including a student section that snuck its way over the fences – came together for an electric celebration at midfield after the Wolverines recovered an onside-kick and erased a late 10-point deficit to defeat South, 38-34, on Friday night at Wolverine Stadium.
West quarterback Kiernen Hamilton was frustrated most of the game, but there was little doubt when he rolled right and comfortably hit a wide open Ben Bresnahan in the shallow corner of the endzone to give West a four-point advantage with just over three minutes to play.
To finish the game, the Wolverines would have to stop South’s offense, which had scored touchdowns on its last two possessions. South quarterback Davis Shanley moved the ball to midfield with a 25-yard run, but after a block in the back put the War Eagles in third-and-long, West’s Clint Hall recorded two sacks in a row to clinch the game.
“When I got to the sidelines, I couldn’t help but cry,” Hall said. “All week we heard, ‘South, South, South.’ We just had to prove that West is still here.”
West (5-2, 5-1 in Region 6-AAAAAA) moved into a tie for second place in the region, while South (6-1, 5-1) suffered its first loss of the year. Lambert, which hosts West next weekend, is in first place at 6-0 in region play.
South seemed to have all the momentum after it followed an 18-play scoring drive, which ended in a 3-yard fade pass from Shanley to Jalen Camp (7 catches, 91 yards, 2 TDs), with a 12-yard touchdown pass on a double-move to Ronnie Chambliss. Chambliss became the focal point of the offense after Camp cramped up on the touchdown.
Trailing 34-24 with just over nine minutes to play, West head coach Adam Clack went to his struggling quarterback on the sideline and confidently outlined the remaining game plan with Hamilton.
“We’re down by 10 and I said, ‘Hey, we just need to get a score and a stop,’ and he nodded and said, ‘I know, let’s go.’ I never doubted him one bit. That kid is dialed in,” Clack said.
Hamilton led a 12-play drive, highlighted by a fourth-and-1 trick pass from tailback Grant Torgerson to normally-defensive end Eli Huggins. West also had to convert a fourth-and-1 moments later, running a sweep to Austin Reid, who picked up 11 yards. On the next play, Hamilton avoided a near strip-sack and slung a 33-yard bomb to the endzone with five minutes to go. Bryce Jones ran under the pass for the touchdown. Then Jones’ onside-kick attempt bounced off a South player and into a pile of gold helmets.
Five plays later, West had the lead.
“I can’t speak enough about (South head coach) Jeff Arnette and his offense and their quarterback. You didn’t want to give them the ball back with a long field. We felt like if we didn’t get the onside kick, we could hold them to a field goal. We took a gamble,” Clack said.
“It was a tough loss. We had it. We lost it,” Arnette said. “When you get beat, you can lay down or get up and fight. I know these kids well enough to know we’re going to fight.”
South took a 20-10 lead with 5:58 left in the first half with a fourth-down pass from Shanley to Camp, who eluded tacklers and raced for a 34-yard score. South got the ball back with a chance to break open the game before intermission, but a sack from Jackson Brantley stalled the War Eagles. Instead, West got the ball back and Hamilton hit Bresnahan on a 30-yard touchdown over the middle to pull within 20-17.
Joey Congrove then intercepted Shanley on the first play of the third quarter, and West took its first lead on a 24-yard strike—Hamilton to Bresnahan. Bresnahan finished with six catches for 94 yards and three touchdowns. Hamilton completed 18 of 29 for 245 yards and five scores, but his second pass of the game was intercepted by Riley Hall.
After the teams traded field goals to open the game, Sam Outlaw scored from 3 yards, then Hamilton hit Garrett Broxson on a 40-yard pass to even the score 10-10. South kicker Alex Barbir had three field goals.
Shanley finished 21 of 31 with 251 yards, three touchdowns, an interception and 115 yards rushing on 10 carries.
When the game ended, Clack and his coaching staff addressed more than just the team.
“You have to cherish these experiences,” Clack said. “I think the level of play in this county is starting to rise, but so is the culture. Both sides were great tonight. The atmosphere. I was very impressed with South. It’s awesome to see everybody in the community get behind each other.”