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Eagles Persevere to Earn Chance at Repeat

By Rich Habegger, 12/09/19, 8:45AM EST


The defending 4-A State Champion East Forsyth Eagles stopped Greensboro Grimsley’s 2-point conversion attempt with 1:40 left on the clock enabling the Eagles to squeeze out a 21-20 victory over the Whirlies.  As a result, East Forsyth will defend its title on Saturday at 11 a.m. against Cardinal Gibbons (Raleigh) at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill. 

East Forsyth held a 21-14 lead as a result of 10-yard scoring run by Robbin Smith and Andrew Conrad’s crucial PAT with 9:19 left in the game. On the ensuing Grimsley possession, the Eagles’ defense held Grimsley without a first down allowing the East offense to regain control at its own 28-yard line.  Needing a stop, the Whirlies’ defense stepped up and held the Eagles on downs.  After a short 14-yard punt, Grimsley began its drive on the East Forsyth 49-yard line with 6:03 showing on the clock.  Relying on star halfback Quan Nora’s running, the Whirlies moved to the 1-yard line, and from there quarterback Chris Zellous took it into the end zone.  Trailing 21-20, Grimsley went for two points, but the ball was fumbled when two players collided in the backfield, and Eagle linebacker Javon Cobb jumped on the loose football.   Needing to get possession of the football, the Whirlies attempted an on-side kick.  However, Robbin Smith made another crucial play for East Forsyth as he covered the ball.  The Eagles earned a first down and was able to run out the clock setting off a huge celebration by the Eagles.

Todd Willert, East Forsyth’s Head Coach, was ecstatic after the game and when asked to explain his feelings said, “It felt so good last year, but this year is unbelievable because no one believed in us.  There was so much stuff against us.  To have a lot of good players out (with injuries), it’s just a tribute to how great my coaching staff is first of all and then how good my players are.”

Midway through the second quarter, things did not look promising for the Eagles as Grimsley held a 14-0 lead by virtue of two scoring runs by Nora.  Following a scoreless first period in which neither team mounted a serious scoring threat, the Whirlies finally put together a 75- yard scoring drive at the beginning of the second stanza.  As was the norm for the evening, Nora did most of the damage for Grimsley as he ran for 37 yards on one carry and 12 on another before scoring from the 10-yard line. Zellous ran for the two-point conversion and Grimsley led 8-0 with 9:12 left in the first half.  East answered with its first sustained drive of the evening and had a first-and ten at the Grimsley 11 before a chop block penalty moved the ball back to the 26-yard line.  A successful 19-yard pass play on third down moved the ball back to the 6-yard line where the Eagles faced a fourth-and-five.  Grimsley’s pass rush forced an incompletion from East quarterback Ty Lyles, and the Whirlies took over at their own 6.  A motion penalty moved the ball back to the 3, but it had no effect.  On the first snap, Nora took the handoff and outran the entire Eagle defense to increase the Grimsley lead. The two-point conversion try was stopped by the Eagles’ defense leaving the Whirlies lead at 14-0 with 4:17 left in the half.

After East’s Traylon Ingram returned the kickoff to the Grimsley 44-yard line, it took East Forsyth only four plays to reach the end zone--one play a 30-yard burst by Robbin Smith.  With the ball on the Grimsley 5-yard line, Ingram finished the drive with a scoring dash.  Conrad’s kick was good cutting the Grimsley lead to 14-7.

With momentum on its side, the East defense held the Whirlies to a three-and-out, and took over at its own 40-yard line with 1:44 until halftime.  Lyles was the star of this drive as he had a 29-yard run and several completions that set the Eagles up with a first down at the Grimsley 4.  After an incomplete pass, Lyles easily scored on a run with :08 showing on the clock.  Conrad was again perfect on the kick so the teams went to their respective locker rooms all square at 14.

Grimsley threatened twice in the third quarter, but mistakes thwarted both scoring opportunities.  On it first possession of the half, the Whirlies drove deep into East territory and faced a fourth-and-two at the 4-yard line.  However, the scoring chance ended as the Whirlies fumbled the ball on the 4th down play and lost a yard.

East Forsyth drove it from the shadows of it own goal line, but its drive stalled due to penalties, a problem all night for the Eagles who were penalized 20 times for 134 yards.  After the East punt, Grimsley took over at its 43.  A 39-yard pass from Zellous to Christian Tutuh quickly moved the Whirlies to the Eagles’ 22 yard-line.  Grimsley then used its rushing game to move to the 14 where it faced a fourth-and-two.  At this point, the Whirlies went to the air in an attempt to pick up the first down, but Zellous’ pass was picked off by East cornerback Jabez Gorham at the 7-yard line on the first play of the final period.

The Eagles’ offense suddenly came to life and covered 93 yards to score in only seven plays.  The drive culminated with Smith’s deciding score, which was followed by the breathtaking final minutes.

Lyles who threw for 207 yards on 20-32 completions and ran for 76 yards on 9 carries led East Forsyth’s balanced offense.  Robbin Smith rushed for 86 yards on 11 carries.

Quan Nora capped his spectacular career with 289 rushing yards on 31 carries and 2 touchdowns.  For the year, Nora amassed 2,279 yards and scored 27 touchdowns for the Whirlies.  Zellous ran for 38 on 10 carries and threw for 64 yards.  Grimsley closes it season with an outstanding 12-2 record, its best record since 2005.

It is amazing that Grimsley and East Forsyth met two times this season and the score of each game was 21-20 in favor of East.  The deciding factor in each game was an unsuccessful PAT.  In the first game, Grimsley scored a late touchdown to reduce East’s lead to 21-20.  East then blocked the extra point attempt to maintain their lead and earn the victory.  In the playoff victory, it was again an unsuccessful PAT attempt that cost Grimsley a victory.  These two teams are about as evenly matched as two teams can be.

East, with a 12-2 record, will now prepare for Cardinal Gibbons.  As the title game approaches, Coach Willert has great confidence in his coaches and players. He shared his observation on his team’s ability to fight through adversity saying, “They (the players and coaches) have been doing it all year.  People kind of wrote us off when we had injuries, especially when Ahmani went down.  But our guys just kept believing, our coaches kept believing.   Next man up.  All of our kids believe they are great and guess what? They are great!”