Walton 35, South Forsyth 21

Junior quarterback Jeremy Hecklinski passed for 321 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a score to lead sixth-ranked Walton to a 35-14 victory over South Forsyth in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs Saturday afternoon in Marietta.

Hecklinski threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Wyatt Sonderman and scored on a 9-yard run in the first half as the Raiders built a 14-7 lead, then gave the Raiders the lead for good with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Sonderman early in the third quarter that made it a 21-14 game.

Walton (9-2), the Region 5 runner-up advanced to the second round for the sixth time in Daniel Brunner’s six seasons as head coach. The Raiders reached the semifinals last season. Next up comes a trip next weekend to top-ranked Buford (11-0), which is going for its fourth consecutive state championship but first in Class 7A. The Wolves defeated Peachtree Ridge 63-6 in the first round.

“It’s a big one, but it’s just like every week,” Brunner said. “In 7A football in the playoffs, you’re going to be playing some juggernauts. Ain’t nobody got us picked, but that’s alright, that’s how we like to live. I’ll live with that underdog card all week.”

Walton controlled the game from the beginning but didn’t pull away until Makari Bodiford’s 24-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter gave the Raiders a 28-14 lead.

After forcing a punt on South Forsyth’s next possession, the Raiders put together a 13-play, 65-yard touchdown drive that took 6:33 off the clock. Bodiford’s second touchdown, on a 7-yard run, made it 35-14 with 2:39 left.

South Forsyth closed the gap to 35-21 on a 50-yard touchdown pass from Ty Watkins to Dash Moore with 1:18 remaining, but Walton recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock.

“We just didn’t play our cleanest game in the first half,” Brunner said. “Eventually we kinda got rolling in the second half, and that’s what we needed to do. At no point did I feel like we were losing control, but we weren’t controlling it like we would’ve liked to.”

Walton dominated the game statistically. The Raiders outgained South Forsyth 429-254 in total yards and had almost a two-to-one advantage in time of possession and offensive plays.

Bodiford finished with 130 yards rushing on 28 carries, giving him 1,405 this season. Hunter Teal led the receivers with six catches for 111 yards, followed by Sonderman (5-73) and Ayden Jackson (4-71).

Hecklinski was 21-of-33 passing and increased his yardage total 2,987 for the season.

Trailing by seven points at halftime, South Forsyth (6-5) got back in the game when Watkins threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Chris Nelson on the second play of the third quarter. Walton answered with a 76-yard drive in five plays that led to Hecklinski’s second touchdown pass to Sonderman.

Watkins provided the bulk of the offense for South Forsyth. He was 13-of-17 passing for 195 yards, although 130 of those yards came on the touchdown passes, and he was sacked seven times. He also scored the War Eagles’ first touchdown on a 32-yard run in the first quarter that tied the game 7-7.

“The offense did a great job,” Brunner said. “We were very efficient with the ball. We would put together some long drives and finish, and that was huge for us. [South Forsyth] was a good offense over there, and we did a good job of keeping them off the field. The defense stepped up when they needed to and made some big plays against that quarterback.”

South Forsyth - 7-0-7-7 - 21

Walton - 7-7-7-14 - 35

First quarter

W - Wyatt Sonderman 21 pass from Jeremy Hecklinski (Alex Rupp kick), 6:47

S - Ty Watkins 32 run (Davis Little kick), 4:13

Second quarter

W - Hecklinski 9 run (Rupp kick), 8:04

Third quarter

S - Chris Nelson 80 pass from Watkins (Little kick), 11:11

W - Sonderman 13 pass from Hecklinski (Rupp kick), 9:41

Fourth quarter

W - Makari Bodiford 24 run (Rupp kick), 11:55

W - Bodiford 7 run (Rupp kick), 2:39

S - Dash Moore 50 pass from Watkins (Little kick), 1:18