West Forsyth may not have been prepared for the battle it faced when the team bus rolled up to Starr’s Mill’s stadium Friday night, but the Wolverines proved their toughness and will to win with a 33-29 victory over a gritty Panther squad in a non-region game.
It was a classic matchup of two great rushing attacks, and West (2-1) pulled out the win on the back of a dominant, come-from-behind scoring drive late in the game and a defensive stand to close it out. In a game that had six lead changes in the second half, the Wolverines made just enough plays to get the victory.
"I was happy with how we responded," West coach Frank Hepler said. "We didn’t come out with high energy. Had some turnovers, some calls go against us. Seemed like everything was going against us, but our kids kept responding. Give [Starr’s Mill] a lot of credit, but really give our kids credit for pulling the win out."
Facing a 29-26 deficit with about two and a half minutes to go in the game, the Wolverines could have felt the momentum slipping away, but instead seized it with a three-play, 60-yard touchdown drive.
Jordan Harris set West up by returning the kick to the 40 yard line. Cole Staton followed that with a 14-yard gain and Hampton McConnell added 14 of his own.
Trevor O’Brien then ripped off a 33-yard run to the end zone that staked the Wolverines to a 33-29 lead with less than two minutes to go.
"Before our final drive, our offensive linemen Andrew Marshall and Jayce Ratliff said they’re not going to stop us, that we were going to take this one down and score," Hepler said. "I was glad to see that kind of leadership."
The Panthers had to score a touchdown to win, and looked like they just might pull it off, marching from their 20 to the Wolverine 22. That was where West’s defense stiffened, keeping the Panthers from scoring on four straight downs to seal the win.
The game opened with some sloppy play, as the teams traded turnovers.
Starr’s Mill intercepted West twice only to give the ball back both times on fumbles. Ryan Guthrie recovered the first Starr’s Mill fumble and Jordan Harris the second.
West took a 7-0 lead on an 8-yard Staton touchdown run.
The Panthers answered before McConnell capped a long West drive by taking it in from eight yards out. The point after attempt was wide right, and the Wolverines led 13-7 at the half.
The second half was an absolute slugfest, with each team trading leads down to the wire.
Starr’s Mill went ahead 14-13 after a short drive that began when the Panthers recovered a fumble deep in West territory.
A failed two-point conversion left the Wolverines with a five-point advantage, 19-14, after a 60-yard drive finished by an O’Brien 11-yard rush for a touchdown.
Trailing 22-19 early in the fourth quarter, West embarked on another long drive, kept alive by several clutch receptions.
McConnell then connected with Nathan Schmitz on a 13-yard scoring strike to give the Wolverines a 26-22 lead with eight minutes left.