Rockets push to the limit, drop seconds from the end
By Anthony S. Puca, sports writer
It was an old-school grill fight on Friday night at Chapel Hill as the Forrest Rockets hosted the Decatur County Riverside Panthers in a Class 2A quarterfinal playoff game.
The low scoring contest came in the dying seconds as the Rockets had the ball over the Riverside 17-yard line with a chance to win, but a Desi Thomas interception in the end zone sealed a victory of 15-10 for the Panthers, breaking Forrest is hoping to advance to the semifinals for the first time in school history.
“It was a great atmosphere and it was a tough and physical ball game,” said Forrest coach Eli Stephenson. âWe knew that before the game it would be a close game. We kept telling them it would be a one-possession game. We had a chance at the end to take the lead, we just came out a bit short.
Forrest’s defense was superb all night as she held a Panthers team that averaged 32 points per game for a pair of third quarter touchdowns.
“The defense has been doing this all year,” Stephenson said. “They came out and executed the game plan and played fast and physically with a great goal line in the first half.”
The two teams rushed the ball 38 times each, Riverside gaining 211 yards while the Rockets went 152 yards.
The Rockets won the turnover battle 4-2 as Hunter Bennett, Brenton Burchell and Christian Hammond all offered a pick while Tayton Swift recovered a fumble on a Riverside punt return.
Forrest held the Panthers to a scoreless first half for the first time this season, going to the locker room with a 3-0 lead over a 27-yard Gavin Grissom field goal as time ended in the first half. time.
The Panthers kicked off the second half and roamed the field to Forrest’s 27-yard line where Cason Reddix took a transfer and walked through the Chapel Hill defense for a touchdown.
Trent Smith added the two-point conversion run to make it an 8-3 game before the Panthers came up with a rigged game, surprising the Rockets with a side kick they recovered on the line. 48 yards from Forrest.
Four games later, the Panthers were back in Forrest’s end zone on a one-yard Amari Thomas run with 6:06 left in the third quarter.
Chase Brock scored the extra point for a 15-3 lead at Riverside.
“Riverside had the momentum in the second half and they took us by surprise with the kick in play, but our players never gave up,” said Stephenson. âThis group is a group of resilient children. They knew there was a lot of football to play and they fought back and gave us a chance to win.
The Rockets didn’t go down without a fight as they put together a 13-play, 71-yard workout that culminated in a 3-yard Swift touchdown run and Grissom added the extra point boot to make it happen. 15-10 with 10:46 remaining in the contest.
The Panthers tried to burn as much time as possible, using up more than five minutes before Bennett offered a leaping interception at Forrest’s 30-yard line with 5:31 left.
Bennett walked the Rockets to Riverside’s 17-yard line when his fourth pass to the end zone corner was caught by Thomas.
“It was a hotly contested ball game,” said Stephenson. “It was the fourth down and Bennett threw the ball into the end zone to gain the advantage, but Riverside made a good play with the ball.”
The number four (12-1) ranked Panthers entered lineup for the win, ending Forrest’s season and advancing to the semi-finals at Martin-Westview (12-1).
âI thought it was a great season, the kids accepted the process and you could see them improve every week,â Stephenson said. âThey played the game the right way and every week they played for each other and left everything on the pitch. They played as a family.
Fifth-ranked Trousdale County (11-1) move on to Hampton (9-2) in 10th place in the other Class 2A semi-final.
Trousdale County won nine state titles (2013, 2009, 2008, 2005, 1998, 1997, 1993, 1990, 1972), Hampton won one (1960), Westview’s best result was a finalist in 2001 , and Riverside never made it to the finals.
“It is a privilege and an honor to coach all seniors … Hunter Bennett, Christian, Hammond, Braden Bowyer, Dominic Smithson, Brayden Jones, Nathan Hall, Layne Strasser, Isaac Burlingame, Colton Fashion, McCalister Wilson and Madison managers Cormier and Mackenzie Pratt, âStephenson said. “Once a rocket, always a rocket.”
Riverside 0 0 15 0-15
Forest 0 3 0 7-10
Forrest-Gavin Grissom 26 yards FG, 12:00 a.m.
Riverside-Cason Reddix race 27, Trent Smith race, 7:39.
Riverside-Amari Thomas 1 run, Chase Brock kick, 6:06.
Forrest-Tayton Swift 3 run, Grissom kick, 10:46.
Total yards-Riverside 269, Forrest 214.
Rushing-Riverside 38-211, Forrest 38-152.
Passing-Riverside 5-9-58-0-2INT, Forrest 3-14-62-0-INT.
First Downs-Riverside 14, Forrest 14.
Sales-Riverside 4, Forrest 2.
Penalties-Riverside 7-47, Forrest 4-20.
Riverside-Cason Reddix 15-102, TD, Amaria Thomas 13-97-TD, Trent Smith 3-17, Jagger Couples 1-3, Desmond Thomas 1-3, Bryce Hernandez 5 – (- 11).
Forrest-Tayton Swift 14-52-TD, Chris Davis 9-41, Liam Bell 5-29, Brenton Burchell 6-19, Hunter Bennett 2-9, McCalister Wilson 2-2.
Riverside-Bryce Hernandez 5-9-58-0-2INT.
Forrest-Hunter Bennett 3-13-62-0-INT, Tayton Swift 0-1-0-0-0.
Riverside-Trent Smith 4-55, Cason Reddix 1-3.
Forrest-McCalister Wilson 2-25, Brenton Burchell 1-30.