CUMMING -- With a chill in the air, Johnson's hearts might have been warmed at the possibility of an upset Friday, as the unheralded Knights held a 10-6 halftime lead at West Forsyth.
It was the Wolverines who caught fire in the second half, though, scoring touchdowns on their first five possessions after intermission to hold off a stout effort from the Knights and win 41-23.
"Our focus was a little lacking in the beginning, and we came back in the second half," West coach Frank Hepler said. "No fire and brimstone or anything like that at halftime, (we) just (told them), ‘Hey, let's roll our sleeves up, let's get back to work and let's improve on what we did (in the first half).'"
That improvement came almost immediately in the third quarter, as West Forsyth (6-1, 2-1 Region 7B-AAA) began the second half with a five-play, 54-yard drive. Running back Ben Emert carried the ball on four of the five plays, including a big 42-yard run down the left sideline to set up a first-and-goal at the Johnson 2.
One play later, Emert was in the end zone, giving West Forsyth its first lead of the game. Emert finished with a game-high 181 yards on the ground and scored three times for the Wolverines.
Johnson (1-7, 0-3) responded with a 65-yard touchdown run from quarterback Anthony Prophet (259 total yards) to reclaim a 16-13 lead following a missed extra point, but the Knights were then buried under an avalanche of West Forsyth scores.
Emert carried the ball eight times on a 10-play scoring drive following Prophet's long scamper, with sophomore Colton Cloud (57 second-half rushing yards) running 12 yards for the score halfway through the third quarter. It was his first of two touchdowns.
A Johnson three-and-out was then met with a 45-yard touchdown pass from Lance Baker (103 passing yards) to Reese Patterson, making it 27-16 with 3:27 to play in the third.
West Forsyth's defense appeared to get in on the scoring action on Johnson's next possession, when junior Chris Rubessa scooped up a fumble and ran about 67 yards for a touchdown, but the score was called back with a block in the back penalty.
Still, West Forsyth retained possession just 15 yards from the end zone, and Emert ran 10 yards to score on the second play of the series, making it 34-16 with under two minutes left in the third period.
A Rusty Juneau interception then set up a 60-yard scoring drive for the Wolverines, capped with a 6-yard run from Cloud with 8:14 left to play.
"I don't know what happened (in the second half). I don't know if we got tired or what, because we've got a ton of young guys playing both ways," Johnson coach Paul Friel said.
"First half, I was proud of ‘em. They came out and fought like crazy," he added. "I mean, we've still got a bunch of people out hurt, but they played a great team and were beating ‘em for a half.
"They just kept pounding at us. ... We really got (our guys) cranked up, which is tough when you're having this kind of season, but they came out and did what we asked, at least for a half."
Hepler credited his offensive line, along with tight end Andy Cameron, for setting the tone for a bruising ground attack in the second half.
"We've worked extremely hard, and our strength, I think, shows in the second half and the conditioning, and I am proud of ‘em for (coming back). I just don't ever like to get behind like that, though."
Hepler also credited the Knights for a tough effort. "Johnson's a good football team," he said. "They've got a lot of good athletes and they came to play tonight. ... They did a nice job scheme-wise against us early on, so give their coaches and the players a lot of credit."
Mantevius Rucker scored two touchdowns for Johnson, finishing with 125 yards. His two-yard scoring run late in the fourth quarter made the final score a bit more respectable.
The two teams were scoreless through the first quarter, but Rucker gave Johnson a 7-0 lead on a 40-yard run with 8:42 left in the first half. Emert scored his first touchdown on the next possession, with a missed extra point keeping Johnson on top 7-6.
Chris Henry hit a 26-yard field goal in the final minute of the half to give the Knights the four-point lead at the break.
West Forsyth has a tough challenge on deck this week, as the Wolverines visit Flowery Branch for a game loaded with state playoff implications. Johnson visits East Hall at 7:30 p.m. Friday.