PERRY -- Most coaches point to a game or two every year as a potential turning point for their season.
Veterans head coach David Bruce didn’t know the opponent, but he’d been waiting four years for a game like his team played Thursday.
The Warhawks (1-3) earned the biggest victory their young history, beating No. 9 Westside 21-14 at Herb St. John Stadium in the GHSA Region 2-AAAA opener for both teams.
“I think we grew up a lot,” Bruce said. “I think this is the kind of win we can build something off of. We’ve been searching for that win for the first four years, and I think this is the win that’s going to give us the opportunity to build from there.”
Three Veterans players rushed for more than 70 yards, lead by Ben Thomas’ 122.
Veterans stopped Westside in its own territory twice in the fourth quarter, with Rashaad Bolton coming up with an interception to end the Seminoles’ final chance with two minutes to play. Westside (2-2) failed to come up with points as well in two trips into Warhawks’ territory in the third quarter.
The Warhawks forced the Seminoles to use timeouts, and Veteransquarterback Logan Byrd converted a third-and-1 with about 90 seconds to play to effectively end the game.
“We just wanted to come out and play hard-nosed football,” said defensive tackle Cortez Broughton, who had one of three Veterans interceptions. “Even though Westside played Northside so tough last week, we didn’t get intimidated.”
Veterans also didn’t get discouraged despite some rough moments early.
The Warhawks were inside the Westside 5 twice in the first 10 minutes of the game, but they turned it over on downs once and kicked a field goal. The Warhawks defense did step up to force a safety after the offense turned it over on downs at the Westside 1. Still, a 5-0 lead wasn’t what the Veterans coaches wanted with two trips inside the Westside 5.
“That’s frustrating, but I knew if we kept plugging away we’d be OK,” Bruce said of the missed opportunities early.
Veterans led 11-7 with six seconds left in the first half, and Bruce decided to attempt a field goal on second-and-goal from the Westside 4 with no timeouts left. Westside blocked the field goal, however, and Jacari Mann scooped the ball and raced 80 yards for a touchdown to give the Seminoles a 14-11 halftime lead.
“In the past, those kind of plays have affected us,” Bruce said. “We got in halftime and told them, ‘If we keep playing hard, good things will happen.’ ”
The Warhawks opened the second half with a near seven-minute drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown run by Ben Thomas. Tim Yalcin added a 47-yard field goal on the next drive to extend the lead to seven points, and the Warhawks’ defense did the rest.
Westside quarterback DeQavius Walker passed for 158 yards, but that was half his total from the Seminoles’ previous game against Northside. The Warhawks devoted a healthy number of defenders to pass coverage, putting the pressure on the defensive line to stop the run by themselves. They did a solid job, holding the Seminoles and their elusive quarterback to 147 yards on the ground.
The teams entered the game on divergent paths.
Veterans lost to Warner Robins, Northside and Harris County -- all three made the playoffs last year in a higher class -- to open the season. Westside, meanwhile, was coming off an impressive performance against Northside, albeit in a loss.
“People can say I’m crazy if they want, but I think the first three games we played paid dividends (Thursday),” Bruce said. “We’ve been in the dang heat of it. We’re battle-tested if nothing else.”