MILTON, Ga. — South Forsyth head coach Jeff Arnette said his team is right where he wants them to be after downing Milton 21-13 in a battle of two top teams in Region 5-AAAAAAA — controlling their own destiny.
South (7-0, 2-0) set a program mark for the best start to a season in program history and now sits atop the region standings with North Forsyth.
“It was a great victory for us,” Arnette said. “It was hard fought, but it was a win.”
It was also a tale of two halves for Milton (5-2, 1-1) who struggled on both sides of the ball in the first half but came out for a fight in the second.
South’s defense held Milton to just 37 yards in the first half while its offense put up three rushing touchdowns, two from Jared Honey and one from quarterback Cal Morris.
Milton’s only real success in the first half came off a Lucas Moore blocked punt. Moore picked up the loose ball and scampered in for the first score of the game four minutes in.
“We talked about facing adversity and overcoming changes before the game, and the first that happens is they get a blocked punt and score,” Arnette said. “Our kids showed resiliency.”
“We played unreal in that first half,” he said.
Though they had a lackluster performance in the first half, Milton wasn’t ready to let South run away with the game.
Milton came out of the half with an onside kick attempt. South recovered, but Milton showed from the get-go of the third quarter it wasn’t going to roll over.
Six minutes later, Milton was back on the scoreboard after Solomon Vanhorse broke a tackle, cut to his right to find running room and scooted into the end zone to cut South’s lead to 21-13.
After Milton’s defense forced a punt, the Eagles were once again within striking distance on South’s 27-yard line facing 4th-and-1. Quarterback Jordan Yates got the call for a QB sneak, but South’s defense got the push they needed to keep Yates at the line of scrimmage.
Milton’s defense, which held South to 86 yards in the second half, got a fourth down stop of their own on South’s ensuing drive.
An interception from South’s Jake Wilson would end that drive with four minutes remaining.
Milton had the ball back with under two minutes left when Yates hit Dash Hairston for a 30-yard pass to South’s 25-yard line. After coming up with a huge reception, Hairston couldn’t bring in an over the shoulder pass that was poised for a touchdown on the next play.
Three straight incompletions turned the ball over on downs with 1:17 left.
Milton used its two remaining timeouts and forced a punt, but when they were back on the ball they had just 10 seconds to work with, needing a score and 2-point conversion to keep their hopes alive.
Yates completed a pass Hairston to the South 45-yard line and spiked the ball with one second remaining.
Milton’s hook and ladder on the final play would fall short at the 30-yard line.
Though his team didn’t have the “unreal” performance of the first half, Arnette was pleased with his team’s gutsy play.
“In the second half we kept having to go out there and get stops,” he said. “Defensively, we kept finding a way to get off the field.”
Milton head coach Adam Clack also reveled in his team’s performance in the second half.
“They came out and took it to us in the first half,” Clack said. “The fact our guys were able to regroup and come back and play a phenomenal second half is phenomenal in regards to their grit.”
Clack said the preparation for their game against South was not where it needed to be, but they have three more regular season games to improve.
“This team is still growing and we have a lot of games in front of us,” he said. “I still have all the confidence in the world in this football team.”
South will look to improve their fortunes to 8-0 next week against North Forsyth (5-2, 2-0) in the Civil War.
“We have another dogfight ahead of us,” Arnette said.
Milton will face a winless Forsyth Central (0-7, 0-2) on the road.