RONDA - The change of football culture in East Bend took another leap forward Friday night down the road in Ronda.
Forbush hung on for a hard-fought 31-20 victory over a scrappy East Wilkes side on wet, soggy turf at Ebb Tharpe Field.
“This was a big win for us,” head coach Chris Johnson explained. “We were coming off an emotional game last week and we were playing an opponent that hadn’t won a game. We were set up in a position where some teams don’t always play their best. And we were caught in that trap. We didn’t always play our best, but for the most part we play well tonight.
“That’s a big step for us; that’s what we have to do,” he continued. “We did a lot of good things tonight, up until that fourth quarter. We need to learn to finish. We had too penalties and mistakes and we were not as intense.”
The Cardinals stormed out of the gates Friday and couldn’t have asked for a better start.
East forced a fumble on the first play of scrimmage, getting the ball at the Falcons’ 40. The Cards then rode senior tailback Jathan Sales down the field, capping the drive with a six-yard score on the option pitch, giving East a quick 6-0 advantage at home.
But then the proverbial wheels came off.
The Falcons scored 24 unanswered points - including a pair of one-yard rushing touchdowns by quarterback Carson Fulp - to grab a commanding 24-6 lead with 1:43 remaining in the third quarter.
Not to be outdone, Forbush’s defense forced two fumbles in the span - recovered by Cody Shrewsbury and Jordan Sawyers - while forcing two more turnovers on downs to keep East off the board.
Needing an answer to keep the game from getting out of hand, Sales stepped up. The senior ripped off a 37-yard touchdown scamper down the left sideline after the Cardinals just beat the third-quarter clock to trim the deficit down to 24-12 heading to the fourth.
East’s defense then forced a punt on the Falcons’ ensuing drive to give the ball back to the offense.
West, Sales and Levi Ray rushed for back-to-back-to-back first downs, driving deep into Forbush territory. Ray capped the drive with a 27-yard touchdown run on the option pitch to bring the Cardinals within four at 24-20 after Sales raced in for the tw0-point conversion.
The Falcons continued to self-destruct on offense on their next drive, recording five straight penalties near midfield to be forced to punt the ball away in the final minutes of the game.
Fulp booted a masterful punt that dropped inside the one-yard line, giving the Cardinals a 99-yard field to work with for the game-winning score with 2:43 to play.
“I told them ‘We just have to play the next play. Yeah, things are going bad against us. Yeah, it was 24-6 and now it’s 24-20. But play the next play and keep fighting,’” Johnson said.
But two plays into the drive, East fumbled the ball away for the fourth time on the night as Tyler Holden jumped on the loose ball at the 5 - a theme that has doomed the Cards this season.
“It was a big sigh of relief,” Johnson added. “They had us against the ropes. Fortunately, we had them going 99 yards, so Carson did a great job punting for us. That was a relief moment.”
On the next play, Sawyers galloped in for the game-sealing touchdown, pushing Forbush’s lead to 31-20. Zack Ragsdale then recorded another fumble on the Cardinals’ final drive to ice the game for the Falcons.
The Falcons rolled off 239 yards on the ground, led by Sawyers’ 117-yard, two-touchdown performance. Fulp added 80 yards on 12 carries, while Holden tacked on 42 yards.
“Jordan actually had the first fumble on the first play of the game. But he put it behind him and kept playing,” Johnson said. “He didn’t fumble the rest of the night and just kept his feet going. What I liked most about him was that rarely was he going down after the first hit; they were having to get guy number three and four there to bring him down.”
Forbush improved to 3-2 on the year with the win, taking a winning record into its bye week for the first time since 2006. But Johnson and the Falcons aren’t stopping there.
“We’re heading into our bye week with a winning record for the first time since 2006. There is some excitement in the school about this team,” he explained. “We just have to keeping doing it, and the only way to do that is to keep winning. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.