"We had to have this one," said Forrest head coach Kyle Stacey. "This game was very crucial and we stressed to the kids this week that this was the first round of the playoffs."
Forrest sophomore Jacob Daughrity made up for any of the Rockets' early imperfections on offense as he turned in a career performance on defense, scoring on two fumble recoveries in the first half to stake the Rockets to a lead they would never surrender.
"Tonight was his (Daughrity) night, that's for sure," said Stacey. "I don't know if it was fall break or what, but the kids were not ready to play in the first half. With what Daughrity doing what he did, we stayed in the ballgame."
Daughrity also had an interception in between the two defensive touchdowns.
"I guess everything was just going my way," said Daughrity. "Sometimes, it just bounces your way."
Huntland lined up on offense at the twenty-yard line after Forrest's standout kicker Angel Reyes booted the pigskin in to the Hornet's end zone on the first of his three consecutive touchbacks to start the game.
The Hornets drove the ball all the way down to the Rocket's twenty-two before Paten Pruitt drilled the Hornet ball carrier and Daughrity scooped up a fumble and raced the other way for a touchdown with 7:12 remaining on the first quarter clock.
The Hornets came back, driving a long way again on offense, this time to the Forrest fourteen-yard line where they were in great shape, facing a second down and two.
Hornet quarterback Clay Robertson dropped back to pass and was swarmed by four Rocket defenders for a fourteen-yard loss.
Pruitt broke up a pass on third down and Robertson threw incomplete on fourth down as he ran for his life from a pursuing Tyler McClendon.
Forrest's offense took the field for the first time in the game, but had to punt after reaching the 45-yard line.
Huntland moved about twenty-yards before Daughrity came up with an interception on a tipped ball at the 10:30 mark of the second quarter.
The Rocket offense looked rusty and went three-and-out again.
Reyes hit a booming punt, driving the Hornets back to their own 17-yard line and on the first play of the drive, Huntland fumbled and Daughrity scooped up the ball and went 33-yards the other way for a 14-0 Rocket lead with 8:32 left in the first half.
Huntland started at the twenty-yard line again, but got some offense churning, embarking on a nine-play touchdown drive with the big play coming on a Robertson 40-yard strike to tight end Derrick Peters and the finishing touch was a Robertson TD pass to Corey Williams from five yards out.
The Hornets tried an onsides kick, but Reyes fell on the ball at the Forrest 46-yard line.
Zach Ray went to work on the ground, rushing the ball four straight times on runs of 25, 15, 6, and 8 yards to paydirt to make it a 21-7 ballgame with 2:14 remaining in the half.
Forrest let their guard down and allowed the Hornets to stay in the game as they drove the ball to the 1-yard line where Robertson scored on a quarterback keeper with 20.4 seconds left, making it 21-14 at the half.
On the first drive of the second half, things looked like they would go downhill for Forrest as they had two penalties and were forced to use a timeout before they even snapped the ball.
Facing a third down and twelve, Rocket quarterback Brooks Lamb got them out of the jam with a 24-yard jaunt for a first down, and moments later, Lamb completed a third down pass to Brandon Anderson for another first down at the Huntland 41-yard line.
Six plays later, Ray capped off the seven-minute, fifty-three second drive with a touchdown run from the three-yard line to make 28-14.
"We overcame a lot of obstacles there," said Stacey. "That was a big drive for us and we kind of got things going pretty good after that."
Huntland coughed up the ball again on their next drive with McClendon delivering the big blow and Tony Johnson recovering the fumble at the Rocket forty-four.
The Rockets gave the ball right back, three plays later when Williams picked off a Lamb pass to end the third quarter.
The Hornets made it to the Rockets' 12-yard line, but four consecutive incomplete passes, capped by a knock-away in the end zone by Brandon Beech put the brakes on the comeback.
The Rockets put the game away, embarking on a six-minute drive that was capped off by a bruising 21-yard touchdown run by fullback Ritchie Smith to make 35-14 with 5:09 remaining in the contest.
Ray toted the ball 21 times for 110 yards on the ground and had two touchdowns to bring his season total to twelve TDs rushing and the senior all-state tailback is now 82 yards shy of putting up another 1,000-yard season.
Lamb rushed for 83 yards and threw for 53 in the contest.
Daughrity also had two catches for 29 yards and Brandon Anderson grabbed two Lamb tosses for 24 yards.
The Rockets (6-2, 3-1) travel to Wartrace on Friday to take on their archrival Cascade Champions (6-2, 4-0) at 7:00 p.m.
"That's the game," said Stacey. "That is always the game."