One by one, the Colonial Forge players broke from the midfield handshake line and reconvened at a spot near the 20.
There, the Eagles formed a few rows on the grass, some kneeling in front, the rest standing behind, and all of them posing for the human corridor of lenses and smartphone cameras trained by classmates there to see the home team off to the locker room following its 41–14 victory over Riverbend.
This was a vastly different picture than 10 months ago, when the Bears shocked Colonial Forge with a 16–14 upset in the first round of the 6A South region playoffs. Josh Sarratt would know—the image is burned into the Eagles sophomore’s mind.
“We remember the feeling we got last year, and this year, we couldn’t feel it again,” said Sarratt, who intercepted two passes in Friday’s victory. “We didn’t want to feel it. We did everything we can to make sure we’re not going to feel that tonight. It feels way better.”
This time, the Eagles crafted a different narrative from the onset. Liam Kauthen returned the opening kickoff to Riverbend’s 26-yard line. Six plays later, Antonio McCray scored on a 2-yard touchdown.
Following Sarratt’s first interception, Jadon Redding kicked a 32-yard field goal to put Colonial Forge ahead 10–0 . Two minutes later, Kauthen added a 2-yard scoring run to give the Eagles a 17–0 lead. It quickly waned.
The Eagles (4–1, 1–0 Conference 4) opened the second quarter in similar fashion, driving efficiently into Riverbend territory. But McCray fumbled following a short reception, and Riverbend’s Matt Young scooped up the loose ball and returned it 57 yards for a touchdown.
Following an Eagles turnover on downs, Riverbend’s TyJuan Garbutt caught a short pass near the right sideline, then turned and sprinted 68 yards for a touchdown to pull the Bears within three points with 4:33 left in the first half.
Garbutt, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound standout who will play defensive line in college, has fielded more than 25 Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship offers. His singular effort wasn’t enough to rally the Bears, though.
“I thought we had them by the tail all night, we just couldn’t get out in front of them,” Riverbend coach Tony DeMarco said. “Playing against a good team from behind like that is just tough.”
The improved play of Colonial Forge quarterback Ethan Garwood made a Bears comeback even tougher. Garwood threw five interceptions in the season-ending loss, mistakes he attributes to trying to make too much happen. In the past, when Garwood was in a tough spot, he’d try to fit the ball into one, often with disastrous results.
“With the talent I have around me, I don’t have to do that anymore,” he said with a smile. “You see what we’ve got.”
Garwood completed 11 of his 16 attempts to six different receivers, with senior Mark Roberts hauling in a game-high five receptions for 94 yards.
He made one mistake, a red-zone interception late in the first half, but rebounded with a two-minute drill that deprived Riverbend of needed momentum going into halftime. Keying on a favorable matchup with Sarratt on the outside, Garwood connected on four passes on the drive, which he capped by finding Ernesto Bowen for a 28-yard scoring reception with 1:05 left in the second quarter.
“You strike out in baseball, you still want to get up the next time and get a hit,” Colonial Forge coach Bill Brown said. “He’s in a really good place mentally right now as a quarterback.”
Following a season-opening loss to Brooke Point, the Eagles find themselves in a favorable situation.
Once his team made it to the locker room, Brown reminded the Eagles they’re undefeated in conference play. Then, he closed his speech with a very different sign-off than the one he used following the Riverbend game this past November.
“It’s not a good win,” Brown declared. “It’s a damn great win.”
CF—A. McCray 2-yard run (Redding kick)
CF—J. Redding 32-yard field goal
CF—L. Kauthen 2-yard run (Redding kick)
RB—M. Young 57-yard fumble return (Davis kick)
RB—T. Garbutt 68-yard pass from C. Wilborne (Davis kick)
CF—E. Bowen 28-yard pass from E. Garwwod (Redding kick)
CF—McCray 4-yard run (Redding kick)
CF—Sarratt 36-yard interception return (Redding kick)
CF—Redding 28-yard field goal
RUSHING: Riverbend—O. Jones 11-47, Wilborne 7-(-8), Melara 7-29, T. Garbutt 3-7, M. White 2-27, L. Taylor 2-6. Colonial Forge—McCray 10-70, 2 TDs, L. Kauthen 4-49 TD, Bowen 7-12, E. Garwood 3-0, J. Sarratt 4-4, P. Morgan 2-40.
PASSING: Riverbend—C. Wilborne 4-13-2, 117 yards, 1 TD, Taylor 2-2, 22 yards. Colonial Forge—E. Garwood 11-16-1, 211 yards, 1 TD.
RECEIVING: Riverbend—T. Garbutt 1–68, TD, M. Young 1-15, Croyle 2-34, Team 1-15. Colonial Forge—.J. Sarratt 2-38, Roberts 5-94, Dennis 1-27, Bowen 1-28, TD, McCray 1-18, Barnum 1-11.