Chris Johnson, in his ninth season as Forbush’s football coach, summed up his team’s performance at East Wilkes with one word.
The Falcons rushed for over 200 yards for the third straight game and posted their second shutout defensively, and the combination produced a 30-0 nonconference win over the Cardinals, Friday night at Ebb Tharpe Field in Ronda.
Forbush snapped a four-game losing streak to East Wilkes and shut out the Cardinals for the fourth time in the series while improving to 3-0 for the first time in 15 years.
The Falcons have multiple shutout wins for the second straight season.
Playing its home opener, East Wilkes fell to 1-2 and was shut out for the first time since 2016, a span of 29 games.
Sophomore running back Luke Bennett leads the Falcons with 460 yards rushing after his game-high 100 yards. But he was only one cog in a machine that put up 354 yards of offense.
Senior fullback Brody Cagna scored three touchdowns and sophomore Derek Matthews scored one. In all, eight players had at least one carry, and tight end Joe Hennings’ first half catch swelled the number to nine.
“The thing that’s different about us this year is instead of having one or two kids who are extremely talented, we’ve got six or seven guys who we can put the ball in their hands and they can do something special with it,” Johnson said. “And we’re good up front (on the offensive line).
“And I was really pleased with our defense…. Three games, two shutouts. We’re doing backflips over that.”
East Wilkes had averaged over 45 points in the previous four meetings, including a 34-point second half outburst in last season’s 48-19 win in East Bend. But on their first four possessions, the Cardinals committed two turnovers and had a penalty sabotage a third, with the fourth ending in a 10-yard punt that gave the Falcons the ball inside the East Wilkes 45.
“We took it right down the field and then we turned it over, and that seemed to be the tale of the game,” said Jonathan Wilmoth, the East Wilkes coach.
“We’d have an errant play that backed us up 15 or 20 yards or turned it right over to Forbush. They were able to sustain drives on offense and established the run game, hit some big plays and that was it.”
Forbush’s first drive stalled at the East Wilkes 12, and Dasaun Dalton’s 29-yard field goal gave the Falcons a 3-0 lead.
Two possessions later, Bennett’s 32-yard run set up the first of Cagna’s two first half scores, good for a 10-0 lead a minute-plus into the second quarter.
The short punt a possession later gave the Falcons the ball at the East Wilkes 42. Cagna carried for 10 yards and Bennett for 20—he had 79 yards in the first half. One play later, Cagna’s 6-yard run made it 17-0.
Garrett Vernon carried for 17 yards on a jet sweep on the Cardinals’ next possession, but a second jet sweep ended with a fumble and the Falcons’ Malik Dunlap recovered at the Forbush 44.
Nathan Hampton’s 20-yard run and Casey Graham’s 15-yard pass to Hennings moved the ball to the 4-yard line. With Bennett out of the game with cramping, Matthews scored from there for a 24-0 lead with 50 seconds to play in the half, essentially putting the game out of reach.
“They were moving the chains…,” Johnson said of the Cardinals, “but we were able to get some luck off some of their mistakes. Any time you win the turnover battle, you should win the ballgame.”
The Falcons didn’t have a turnover and didn’t commit a penalty in the first half.
Cagna’s third touchdown, a 5-yard run with 9:22 to play in the game, set the final margin.
Forced to throw more often in the second half, senior Caeden Howell set a career high with 14 completions, nine in the second half. That’s the most by an East Wilkes quarterback since Luke Samples completed 20 against Thomasville in his final game in 1999.
And junior receiver Bryson Sidden, whose brother Sean Sidden had 12 catches last season, set his own career high with eight catches, five of them in the second half. That’s the most since Nathan Jordan had seven catches in a win at North Stokes in 2005.
East Wilkes’ best possession came late in the third quarter. Running in hurry-up mode, the Cardinals moved from their 5-yard line to the Forbush 30. Sidden had four catches on the drive and Austin Bauguess had a 21-yard reception that moved the ball to the Forbush 49.
Sidden came up short on fourth-and-six to end the possession on the first play of the fourth quarter.
“You just put your head down and you keep working,” Wilmoth said. “There’s nothing else to do…. We’ll get there.”
The Falcons are 3-0 for the first since starting 5-0 in 2004. That team finished 11-2 and in second place behind Hibriten in the first iteration of the Mountain Valley Conference.
“I wasn’t here 15 years ago, but that’s what they tell me,” Johnson said. “It is a big deal.”
Coming off back-to-back third-place finishes in the Western Piedmont Conference, can the Falcons make another run? “Yes, we should,” Johnson said. “Barring a rash of injuries, we should continue growing and getting better.”
Notes: Senior Trey Lambert had four catches for East Wilkes…. Forbush leads the series 9-8. The teams first played in 1973…. The Cardinals unveiled their new black home uniforms, which Wilmoth said were ordered after last season. East Wilkes last wore black uniforms in 2002.