Fighting Irish invade Marshall County
In an ironic twist of fate, both Forrest and Marshall County High School will host a pair of Fighting Irish squads in the first round of the TSSAA playoffs Friday night with both contests beginning at 7:00 p.m.
At the "Rock" in Chapel Hill, the number nine ranked 2A Rockets take on Houston County (5-5) in the first ever meeting between the two schools.
This marks the third straight season Forrest (7-3) has been to the playoffs as they host their second first round game in that time span.
In 2009, Forrest lost in Chapel Hill to Marion County 20-17 and last year, the Rockets travelled to Dresden and fell 21-7.
Forrest has not won a playoff game since 1992 and their overall record since that playoff game is 101-97.
The Rockets are coming off a tough loss at Moore County, but in retrospect, that contest did not have much meaning in the playoff seeding and it may have been a blessing in disguise for the Rockets, who have come back and played some of their best football after their first two losses this season.
"I like the way things worked out for us," said Forrest head coach Kyle Stacey. "We would have loved to win that Moore County game, but here we are playing at home and we are very excited. It is a whole, new clean slate for everybody."
On the other hand, the Houston County Fighting Irish come into the game on a three-game winning streak and are a hungry bunch, but inexperienced when it comes to playoff football, as they have not been to the post-season since 2003.
"This is the first time they have been in the playoffs in a long time and that in itself, makes them a dangerous team," said Stacey.
The two teams have one common opponent this season in White House-Heritage with Houston County losing to the Patriots 28-6 the week prior to the Rockets beating White House-Heritage 23-18.
Forrest will not stray from their season-long offensive plan of mixing a lot of the ground game with a fair amount of aerial action.
Rocket signal caller Brooks Lamb has attempted 76 passes on the season and has hit on exactly fifty percent of the throws for 767 yards and 10 touchdowns, while throwing a miniscule three interceptions in his ten starts.
On the ground, Lamb has been strong, rushing 533 yards on 94 carries and he has found the opposing teams' end zone 10 times, including the game winner at Cascade in overtime.
The workhorse once again for the Rockets in the backfield is senior Zach Ray, who has rushed for 1,029 yards on 191 carries (5.4 yards per gain) and 11 touchdowns.
Ray has also thrown for a touchdown and has hauled in a TD pass from Lamb. Fullback Richie Smith is a key player in the backfield for the Rockets with his devastating blocks, while putting up 279 yards and two touchdowns.
Freshman Dontay Baugh (209 yards, 2 TDs) could see some action, while Brandon Beech has come on with a late season charge, rushing for 181 yards and one score, while catching six balls and scoring once on the receiving end.
The Rockets' leading receiver is Jacob Daughrity, who has 13 receptions for 359 yards and five touchdowns.
On defense, Daughrity is the big play man, along with Paten Pruitt, Ronald Osborne, and Tyler McClendon.
Senior linebacker Logan Wheeler is injured and will not play versus Houston County, but should be back next week if the Rockets advance.
WSMV Channel 4 sportscaster Rudy Kalis will be flying back to Chapel Hill Friday for the start of the contest and look for the Rockets to blast off over the Irish from Erin in a big 30-13 win.
For the Tigers (7-3), the first round 4A playoff game versus the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5-5) is the first post-season contest at Preston Hopkins since 2002.
"Marshall County is in a great spot," said Stacey. "They have worked hard all season to get where they are at. I am happy for them and we all want to see the county teams do well."
MCHS lost at Maplewood 35-2 in the first round last season.
Notre Dame was 1-9 last season and has not made a playoff appearance since 2006 when they lost to White House 10-7.
Notre Dame runs a shotgun spread offense and their leading rusher is junior Shaqualm McCoy, who has gained 1,207 yards on 140 carries and scored 15 TDs.
Senior quarterback Josh Moore, who is a transfer from Ringgold (Ga.) High School, has completed 116 of 197 passes for 1,835 yards and 24 TDs.
Moore's favorite target has been fellow senior Matt Reilly, who has 52 receptions for 1,156 yards and 19 TDs.
The Fighting Irish average 37.3 points per game, but give up a whopping 30.0 to their opponents.
The Tigers, on the other hand are more balanced as they have scored 261 points and have allowed just 133.
There will be no secrets to the Tigers' game plan on Friday, as Notre Dame will get a heavy dose of senior Trevor Irizarry, coming off a blockbuster performance last week when he set the single game school rushing record as the talented tailback has nearly 1,500 yards rushing on the season.
The Tigers are asking for all veterans of foreign wars to take part in the pre-game ceremonies Friday night, beginning at 6:30.
After the ceremony, look for the Tigers to blitzkrieg the Fighting Irish from Chattanooga 35-17.
It will cost 8$ to get in the door at every first round playoff venue the rest of the season, per the TSSAA.