Postseason run: A look back at West Forsyth’s 1990 state runner-up team — part 2

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 30, 2020

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By Brian Pitts
For the Clemmons Courier

This is the second in a series on the greatest postseason run in West Forsyth football history, the 30-year anniversary of the 1990 state runner-up team.

There are games on the schedule that players and fans circle. They all circled Dudley. The showdown in the Central Piedmont Conference opener was held in Clemmons the third week of September.

Back in August, West Forsyth coach Denny Zeiters called the Panthers the team to beat.

“The best CPC team on paper has to be Dudley,” he said. “They were strong last season (when they went 8-3 overall, 6-1 in the CPC and finished second, one game behind the Titans) and they’ve got a good group back. Grimsley also looks pretty strong, but Dudley has to be the odds-on favorite.”

If there was any doubt the Titans could win the CPC for the third year in a row – they finished in a four-way tie at the top in 1988 and won the league outright in 1989 — they sent a message while waltzing to a 21-6 win.

Travis Walkush (pick-6), Freddie Transou (interception), Tori Workman (10 tackles), Mike Murray (nine tackles), Maurice Leggette (four pass breakups, interception) and the rest of the West defense attacked like a swarm of bees.

In the first quarter, Walkush busted through a wall of blockers, picked off a short pass and sped 50 yards to give West a 7-0 lead.

“Our defense got us going early and gave us the momentum,” Zeiters said. “And with our defense doing the job, our offense gained some confidence and pulled off some big plays.”

Dudley appeared poised to get even late in the second quarter, but the Titans came up with a goal-line stand. From the West 5, running back Del Seagraves bulled his way to the 1. But after an illegal procedure penalty moved the ball back to the 6, Dudley was shut down on three straight downs. The offense stayed on the field for fourth down, and a pass in the middle of the end zone to Seagraves was broken up by Leggette.

“Stopping that drive was the biggest series of the whole game,” Zeiters said. “Instead of going into the half tied, we went in with a lead and the momentum.”

Dudley was actually lucky to be in the game at halftime; West  (2-0-2 overall) had two second-quarter TDs erased by penalties. One was an Oscar Braun pass to Leggette, the other a throwback pass from Leggette to Braun.

“Those touchdowns would have been nice, but we didn’t dwell on the fact that we came away empty both times,” Zeiters said. “Our defense was doing the job and that was what we focused on.”

The Titans took the game by the throat early in the second half. Transou intercepted a long pass at the West 23, Braun and Leggette hooked up on a hitch-and-go pattern for a 77-yard TD, and the margin was now 14-0.

“We’d thrown short passes in the flat about four times, so we decided to pump fake the short throw and go long,” Zeiters said. “And once Maurice got the defender to bite on his fake, it was all over.”

A Dudley fumble and Braun’s second scoring toss broke the Panthers’ back. This one was a 14-yarder in the corner of the end zone to Gray Bovender to make it 21-0.

The 5-9 junior QB went 8 of 12 for 174 yards. Bovender had five catches for 51 yards. The only points for the Panthers — who were held to 76 rushing yards, with Seagraves only managing 37 on 13 attempts — came late in the fourth.

WF 21, S. Rowan 7

A punt return for a touchdown got West going in a hard-fought road win over South Rowan. The first-quarter moment was classic Bovender, who fielded the ball at the South 45.

He started right. With that area cut off, the 6-1 senior and future Tar Heel reversed direction and sprinted down the left sideline. After absorbing a hit inside the 5-yard line, he reached paydirt by diving and extending the ball over the plane. Marc Liner’s PAT made it 7-0.

But the Raiders had good players, too. They put together a long drive in the second quarter. The series saw Workman and Leggette have to leave with injuries (they would return), and South tied it on a 15-yard pass.

“That score threw a scare into us,” Zeiters said. “We’d held them fairly well through most of the half, but they put together a pretty good drive to tie things up. At the half, we were worried that this was going to be another West-South Rowan game that went down to the wire.”

For the second week in a row, the Titans had two first-half TDs called back. Lee Brush’s pick-6 and a Braun-to-Leggette connection were negated by clipping and holding penalties, respectively.

“We should have had a comfortable (21-7) lead, but the penalties kept South in it,” Zeiters said. “This time it looked like those mistakes might cost us the game.”

Early in the third, Braun and Bovender eased West’s anxiety. Braun caught the free safety cheating toward the strong side of the field, and he hit Bovender in stride on a post route, resulting in a 75-yard score for a 14-7 lead and atoning for an earlier INT.

“That score really meant a lot,” Braun said. “South had the momentum at that point and the touchdown came on a third-down play. If they’d held us there, they would have really been fired up. I decided to lay it up and let Gray run under it. I was afraid I might overthrow him, but Gray’s got great speed.”

South never threatened in the second half. For good measure, Leggette finished a drive from one yard out with 4:12 remaining.

Braun passed for 156 yards, averaging nearly 20 yards on his eight completions. Bovender (5-129) accounted for the bulk of the receiving yards. Offensive lineman Taylor Addington turned in an efficiency grade of 97 percent.

Defensively, the standouts were Phillip Warren (10 tackles, blocked punt), Workman (six tackles, 1.5 sacks, fumble recovery) and Brush (five tackles, INT).

At 2-0 in the CPC, West remained in a first-place tie with Grimsley and Parkland.

WF 14, Grimsley 7

In Week 6, West hosted a formidable foe. Grimsley came in averaging 33 points per game. Like West, the Whirlies were 2-0 in the CPC. And they featured a gifted running back named Lamont Wall.

“They’ve got the conference’s most explosive running back,” Zeiters said.

But the West defense rose to the moment again, holding the opponent to seven or fewer points for the fifth time in six games. The Whirlies mustered 69 rushing yards. They didn’t score until the final seconds.

West’s defensive heroes were Murray (11 tackles), Warren (eight tackles), Brush (seven tackles, pick-6) and Leggette (two INTs).

“Once again, I have to give a lot of credit to coach (Dave) McConnell for having our defense ready,” Zeiters said. “I asked him before the game how many points we’d need and he told me that double figures would do it. Obviously he knew what he was talking about.”

West struck in the second quarter. Braun and Leggette — sound familiar? — connected for a 45-yard TD. On the ensuing series, Brush threw an early knockout punch, the safety intercepting and going 49 yards to the house. Liner’s second PAT bumped the lead to 14-0.

“We were a little late lining up in our formation, but when the play started their quarterback’s pass came right in my direction,” Brush said. “I was fortunate enough to make it thanks to a great block by Phil (Warren, the nose guard).”

The final margin was deceiving because Grimsley scored with only 18 seconds left.

Brush again: “Grimsley has a good quarterback, but he never had time to set up. Our line just kept blowing past theirs and forcing him to scramble.”

Grimsley’s secondary double-teamed Bovender and limited West to 149 yards of offense. Tailback Kevin Myers (15 carries for 83 yards) was the most effective weapon. Center Teke Tabor graded out at 96 percent.

“(Bovender) was used pretty much as a decoy,” Zeiters said. “They were using double coverage on him and that opened up other areas for us.”

At 3-0, there was a two-way tie for first between West and Parkland.

Parkland 17, WF 14

When West bolted to a 14-0 lead at Parkland, the Titans had every reason to think this game would end the same as the previous four.

Mother Nature, though, intervened. West’s two TDs in the opening 14 minutes came in relatively dry conditions. Then came a torrential downpour. West bombed in the rain and mud; the Mustangs and their run-oriented attack thrived.

When the water-logged game in Winston-Salem was over, the Titans trudged off with a woulda/coulda/shoulda defeat, their first regular-season loss since they fell to Parkland in 1988.

While Parkland assumed sole possession of first, West slipped into a three-way tie for second.

“We certainly wouldn’t have played in those conditions at home,” Zeiters said. “But to say that we would have won under better conditions wouldn’t be right.”

Zeiters again: “We’re a passing team and anytime it gets as wet as it did tonight, you just can’t move the ball through the air. We moved the ball pretty well in the first quarter, but then it rained harder and harder and we had a pretty rough game.”

Parkland used trickery on the game’s first play from scrimmage, a halfback pass that went for 51 yards. The Mustangs, though, failed to capitalize, botching the snap and coughing up the ball inside the West 5.

Powered by Myers’ 17-yard scamper and a series of Braun completions to Bovender and Leggette, West reached the red zone. The surge was culminated by Myers’ 18-yard TD.

Then came a defensive score for the Titans. Workman ripped the ball away from Parkland running back Reginald Hunter and lumbered 38 yards to the end zone. After Liner’s kick, Parkland was trailing 14-0 and flailing.

But a major reversal was about to unfold. Talk about a night of bad luck. On the 13th play of a Parkland drive, there was an apparent fumble and recovery by West’s Antwaune Buey. The officials huddled. They ruled the play had been whistled dead before the ball came loose. On the next play, Parkland scored a controversial TD to cut the gap to 14-6 (its two-point try failed).

Buey: “That was the game right there. Their guy dropped the ball while the play was still going and I picked it up. If we’d gotten that call, things would have been a lot different.”

Zeiters: “That inadvertent whistle cost us.”

West defenders knew what was coming in the heavy rain, but they were unable to stop it. In the second half, E.J. Gunthrope broke free on a counter play and won an 85-yard footrace to pull the Mustangs within 14-12.

It just wasn’t West’s night. Late in the third, Parkland scored on a fluke safety. Bovender, who had to set up to punt from his own end zone, went to a knee to field a low snap. Now the game was tied at 14.

West turned it over at the Parkland 48. The Mustangs navigated to the West 13 in seven plays. On fourth-and-6, they waved on kicker Luther Leak, who booted a 31-yard game-winner to cap a run of 17 unanswered points. Brush was almost a savior, narrowly missing a block.

“I was right behind Lee and the ball actually went under his arms when he tried to block it,” Buey said. “That was the kind of night it was.”

Myers churned for 91 yards on 15 carries. Workman was brilliant in the trenches, racking up 19 tackles and two forced fumbles. Antwan Jeffries (11 tackles, sack) and Warren (nine tackles, fumble recovery) contributed to the defense.

But all of it was overshadowed by a lamentable loss. The Titans  (4-1-2, 3-1 CPC) were facing adversity with Davie County coming to town the next week. How would they respond?

“Davie is coming into this game with some momentum (a two-game winning streak after an 0-5 start, with wins over Mt. Tabor and Reynolds), so I’m sure they’ll be fired up,” Zeiters said.

Next week: Part III — an emphatic bounce back and a charge to a share of first.