This time around, it’s West Forsyth’s turn.
The visiting Wolverines outscored the previously unbeaten Hawks 26-7 in the second half, and their defense made it tough on Hillgrove running back Kenyan Drake to pull one of the state’s biggest upsets, 40-28 on Friday in a second-round Class AAAAA state playoff game at Cobb Energy/Hillgrove Stadium.
With the victory, West Forsyth (11-1) will travel to Grayson next week with a spot in the state semifinals on the line.
“We’re just proud of our kids to be able to play a team like this. To get here so quickly — second year as a AAAAA program — I never thought it would happen so quick,” said Wolverines coach Frank Hepler, whose West Forsyth team is playing just its fourth season of varsity football.
West Forsyth quarterback A.J. Erdely was 9-of-13 passing for 132 yards, and he also added 57 yards on the ground with a touchdown. He proved slippery and extremely difficult to harness for a Hillgrove defense that entered the game allowing just 10 points per game.
“The offensive line, they did great sealing the edge and letting me get out there,” said Erdely, who converted a number of third downs and a key fourth down in the second half with his arm and legs.
West Forsyth churned out 410 yards of offense, also bolstered by big games from Blake Roberts and Jake Wieczorek, who combined for 217 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Wieczorek’s two fourth-quarter touchdowns — from 10 and 44 yards out — iced the game, allowing the Wolverines to build on a 26-21 advantage entering the final period.
West Forsyth was able to shake off a potentially demoralizing sequence on the final play of the first half. After knotting the score at 14-all with 1 second remaining on Roberts’ second of three touchdown runs, the ensuing squib kick was corralled by Hillgrove’s Victor Sanchez and then lateraled to Drake, who broke free for a 65-yard return score to give the Hawks (11-1) a 21-14 advantage.
“We were definitely all juiced up, and then it just went to a blank,” Erdely said. “And then coach Hep gave us that halftime speech that he always does to get us pumped up again.”
West Forsyth got another short touchdown run from Roberts to cut the lead to 21-20 midway through the third quarter. And the Wolverines quickly shook off a bobbled snap on the point-after when Hunter Belue blocked an Austin Trevors punt four plays later to set up Erdely’s 12-yard scoring run on the next play to give them the lead for good at 26-21.
Drake managed to score all four Hillgrove touchdowns, adding a 1-yard run and a pair of short receptions that went into the end zone. But he totaled only 39 yards rushing on 19 carries, with 44 more through the air. The Alabama commitment, who played his final game in a Hillgrove uniform, struggled to get outside against a physical, swarming West Forsyth defense.
Hillgrove never trailed in the first half. Drake put the Hawks up 7-0 on a short run, and then 14-7 on a 14-yard screen pass from Elijah Ironside. But Roberts answered both times before to Drake’s kickoff return on the half’s final play.
After that, it was all West Forsyth. The offense was highly efficient over the final 24 minutes, and the Wolverines’ defense limited Hillgrove to just six second-half first downs and Drake’s late touchdown reception from Troy Thompson, who replaced a gimpy Ironside in the midway through the final period.
West Forsyth also intercepted Ironside twice in the second half. The Hillgrove quarterbacks were just 9-of-26 for 126 yards, while the ground game managed 185 yards on 37 carries.
“I thought their quarterback — just watching him on film — I knew he’d be problems, and he was,” Hillgrove coach Phil Ironside said. “They played good. They’re 10-1 (coming in). It’s a good team.
“It hurts right now, but these seniors are amazing for us. Twenty-one wins in two years out of this group, back in the playoffs when we though it was going to be a down year — so it’s a commendable group and we’re proud of them.”