LAWRENCEVILLE — Don't let the hyperbolic nature of the word potential lull you into thinking it's just a salve for a 1-3 team.
Even the score of Central Gwinnett's 30-7 loss to South Forsyth on Friday could paint a misleading picture. The Black Knights are young and it does show. They also have the ability to be a threat in the region later this season.
"We're inexperienced and we're not totally through our culture change where we need to be to win," Central head coach Jason Thompson said. "Our guys play hard. We just haven't figured out all the pieces. I can't lie to you, this is our non-region schedule. I wanted to be 4-0. We're 1-3.
"Where we're at today is not where we want to be, but I'm going to go home and reflect tonight. I'm going to make some changes that we need to make. Then our staff is going to grind it out and we're going to find a way to fight through our region and get to the playoffs."
Central's defense made a number of big plays, including three sacks of South Forsyth quarterback Ty Watkins, in the first half.
On the first drive of the game, freshman Russell Richmond caught War Eagle Austin Uidel at the two-yard line. Uidel took off from his own 47 and pounded toward corner of the end zone, only to get pulled down just short of the score.
Uidel was stuffed twice for losses to set up third-and-goal from the Central 8, but Watkins found a seam and scampered in on the QB keeper with 8:30 left in the first quarter.
The offense went three-and-out, quickly putting the defense back on the field. Keyed by a 27-yard completion from Watkins to Gavin Morris, South Forsyth scored on its second drive for a 14-0 lead. The Central defense had another stellar play when a Richmond hit at the sideline caused the receiver to drop a long completion opportunity.
South Forsyth tacked on Tyler Simpson field goals of 35 and 44 yards in the second quarter for a 20-0 halftime lead.
"We make mistakes," Thompson said. "But we made some adjustments on defense. I thought we started way too slow.
"We're going to be OK. We just have a lot of work to do. But I love our kids and I love what we're doing."
The second-half surge was indicative of how much potential the Black Knights have. The defense forced South Forsyth (2-1) into its first three-and-out and the offense found a groove.
After getting three first downs in the first half, Central ripped off five in consecutive plays.
Quarterback Justin Johnson led the resurgence.
The junior went 17 yards on a keeper to spark the Black Knights' scoring drive. Jason Jackson Jr. followed that up with a 13-yard run. Then Johnson completed a 10-yard pass to senior Nathaniel Wilson.
Jackson added a second 13-yard dash to cross into South Forsyth territory. Another completion from Johnson, this one to senior Rhyheem Camel Jr., had Central on the cusp of the red zone. A five-yard loss snapped the first-down streak, but Johnson took the ball to the 6 on a 21-yard rush.
Jackson punched it in three plays later at 5:25 of the third.
"We just had to bring more juice and fix the little mistakes," Johnson said. "We fix those mistakes and we'll be an explosive offense in the region. But nothing really stopped us. We stopped ourselves."
The returning QB was wearing No. 45 on Friday in honor of his brother. John Johnson passed away on Aug. 29 after a battle with cancer.
"He always inspired me to play football so I wanted to come out tonight and show that he's still with me," he said.
Central didn't get any closer than 20-7, but everyone is eyeing a promising future.
"I've been telling our team, we're going to move mountains, but it takes every one of us picking up a stone and carrying it," Thompson said. "That's what we have to do. All of us."
SOUTH FORSYTH 30, CENTRAL GWINNETT 7
S. Forsyth 14 6 3 7 — 30
Central 0 0 7 0 — 7
South Forsyth: Ty Watkins 8 run (Tyler Lang kick) 8:30
South Forsyth: Austin Uidel 2 run (Lang kick) 3:58
South Forsyth: Tyler Simpson 35 FG, 7:02
South Forsyth: Simpson 44 FG, 1:00
Central Gwinnett: Jason Jackson Jr. 3 run (Edward Gomes kick) 5:25
South Forsyth: Simpson 39 FG, 5:25
South Forsyth: Watkins 6 run (Lang kick) 8:54