COAL MOUNTAIN, Ga. — Elijah Seaney picked the perfect time for his breakout moment.
The junior North Forsyth quarterback threw for career-highs in yards (249), completions (20) and touchdowns (3) in leading the Raiders to a thrilling 42-35 win over Jackson County on Friday night in both teams' Region 8-6A openers.
It was a much-needed win for the Raiders (2-3, 1-0 Region 8-6A), who had lost two straight by a combined six points.
"I was super proud of how our guys played. They executed our plan and stepped up and made plays when we needed to," North Forsyth coach Robert Craft said. "Anytime you can start 1-0 in the region is huge."
It was an unexpected offensive explosion from both teams after last year's matchup, where the two offenses combined for just three scoring drives and 17 total points.
And Seaney did a lot of his damage over a five-minute stretch sandwiched around halftime that turned the game around. After the Panthers had taken a 14-13 lead, Seaney connected on TD passes of 25 yards to Brady Holbrook and 30 yards to Walker Roberts in the final 1:22 of the first half and then tossed a 29-yard TD pass to Nate Gravitt to open the third quarter as the Raiders stormed out to a 35-14 lead.
Jackson County coach Korey Mobbs said they would love a do-over on those final two minutes of the first half. However, the loss of Class 6A leading rusher MJ Spurlin late in the second quarter loomed large.
"We would definitely like to have those two minutes back," Mobbs said. "But I thought we grew up as a team in the second half. We lost our bell-cow, but then we just had a bunch of guys step up and make plays.
"I think the difference you saw down the stretch was a team (North Forsyth) that has been in these situations before, and we're a team that, again, grew up over the second half, and we're hoping to find ourselves in this situation again."
The Panthers finally began to get some traction of their own late in the third quarter.
Sophomore quarterback RJ Knapp, making his first varsity start, found his groove. He connected with Jaydan Hibbert for an 11-yd TD pass on the opening play of the fourth quarter, and after a quick 3-and-out by the Jackson County defense, Knapp and Hibbert connected again for a 24-yard TD strike to get the Panthers within 35-28 with just over 8 minutes left.
Mobbs and the Panthers had been looking for a passing game after lackluster results over the first four games. They may have found it. And senior running back Acoreon McClure churned out 68 yards on the ground after taking over for Spurlin.
"It took (RJ) a half to get loosened up, but he played well in the second half," Mobbs said. "Acoreon is a young man who's on 100 all the time. He played offense and defense, and he's kind of one of the heartbeats of who we are."
The Raiders looked to put the game out of reach when Seaney scored from 3 yards out following a 56-yard run by Darron Parry for a 42-28 lead. But Jackson answered back as Knapp scored on a 1-yard run after he and Elijah Ling hooked up on a 49-yard pass that cut it back to a one-score game.
Jackson County would get one final drive with just over 2 minutes left, but Zachery Alvarez picked off Knapp to seal the game.
"The goal this week was to be 1-0, someway, somehow, and the kids just battled and got it done," Craft said.
North Forsyth took the initial lead on a 45-yard drive, capped by a 1-yard TD run from Jacob Shirley. A huge 17-yard pass from Elijah Seaney to Nate Gravitt on third down kept it moving, and a fourth down conversion at the Panthers 12 kept it alive.
The Panthers immediately drove down to the Raiders 29 on Spurlin's strength of five runs for 49 yards. But the drive appeared stalled at the 33 as Brice Rogers lined up for a 50-yard field goal. Instead, Rogers took the snap and found Elijah Ling for a short pass. Ling serpentined through the Raiders defense for the 33-yard score to tie it up with just 21 seconds left in the first quarter.
North Forsyth answered right back with a quick 6-play drive, with Darron Parry crashing in for a 3-yard touchdown run. But a failed 2-point pass left the Raiders with a 13-7 lead.
The Panthers answered that with a 56-yard drive, capped by a 1-yard scoring run from Acoreon McClure for a 14-13 lead. Spurlin went out the play before the touchdown and did not return for the Panthers.
NOTES: Spurlin came into the game sixth in the state, leading Class 6A in rushing and touchdowns with 616 yards and 9 TDs on the season. He finished with 81 yards on 13 carries before leaving late in the second quarter. ... Hibbert finished with 186 yards and 2 TDs receiving for the Panthers. ... Knapp was 16-of-32 for 207 yards in his first start. ... Parry paced North Forsyth on the ground with 119 yards. ... Gravitt had five catches for 84 yards, and Holbrook had six catches for 80 yards for the Raiders.