Rockets fall in first round
The Forrest Rockets suffered a devastating first-round 35-30 playoff loss to Decatur County Riverside Friday night at Murrey E. Holton Field in Chapel Hill, shooting themselves in the foot with a series of third-quarter mistakes that they would not overcome.
"It was a tale of two halves, I thought we played well the first half defensively, but we gave up two punch kicks there in the second half," said Forrest coach Matt Kriesky. "You can't make those mistakes in a playoff game, especially against a good team, we knew Riverside was going to be tough coming in. That Drake Smith is a great quarterback and (Shemar) Porter is good too, we had a hard time containing them and tackling them and you can't do that against a good football team like this."
Injury ends chase
Forrest senior standout Zach McClendon's chase for a 2,000 yard season was derailed by a first-half hand injury that slowed the talented running back down as he finished with 120 yards on 20 attempts in the contest, leaving him 58 yards shy of the coveted mark.
McClendon ended up with 1,942 yards on 229 carries and 28 total all-purpose touchdowns, both school records.
It was typical playoff football in the first half as both squads squared off in a defensive battle with the only points coming on the Rockets' third offensive possession as they drove 63 yards on 10 plays, scoring on a 5-yard touchdown run by Chance Hargrove with 9:42 to play in the second quarter.
Riverside tried to answer, marching deep into Forrest territory where Hargrove came up huge again, this time from his linebacker position on a fourth-down stop in the Panthers' backfield.
Drive falls short
The Rockets were looking to score again before the end of the first half, driving to the Riverside 18-yard line, but could not connect on three straight passes and the half ended with Forrest in front 7-0.
Forrest had deferred the opening kickoff and had a big opportunity to take control with a solid drive to begin half No. 2, but instead fumbled away a pooch kick at their own 41-yard line.
On the next play, Shemar Porter busted free for a touchdown and Giovanni Jimenez booted the extra point, tying the game at 7-7 with 11:50 to play in the third quarter.
The Panthers stopped Forrest on a three-and-out on the next series before striking quickly once again on offense, this time on a first-down 67-yard long bomb by quarterback Drake Smith to Riley Coleman.
Rocket pride kicked in as Forrest responded with a long 60-yard scoring drive, capped off by a McClendon 1-yard TD run and after a roughing-the-kicker penalty on the extra point try, McClendon busted in for the two-point conversion, giving the hometown boys a 15-14 lead with 6:21 remaining in the third quarter.
Riverside came right back to re-take the lead on a 19-yard scoring strike from Smith to Coleman and added two more points on a Porter run, making it 22-15 at the 4:18 mark of the third quarter.
Disaster struck on the ensuing kickoff when Forrest fumbled away the kick for the second time in the game and three plays later, Decatur County took the lead for good on a 21-yard touchdown run by Devin Cannon.
Another McClendon touchdown on Forrest's next drive was immediately matched by a Cannon 24-yard TD run with 9:36 remaining in the contest, making it 35-23 Panthers.
Less than one minute later, McClendon notched his final touchdown as a Rocket, cutting the score to 35-30, but Riverside proceeded to run out the final 6:36 in the game, ending the Rockets' season at 7-4.
"It is what it is, I'm proud of these kids, they fought hard all year, we were kind of behind the eight ball all year and they never gave up," said Kriesky. "Riverside scored 14 points quick in the second half and we could have laid down, but we fought to the very end until that horn blew and I am proud of these kids, each and every one of them."
Riverside (7-4) will make a short trip to No. 1 seeded Adamsville (9-1) on Friday night in a battle of District 15A archrivals.
Adamsville has won five straight games versus Riverside and nine out of the last 10 games against the Panthers.
Hargrove, who led the Rockets with 130 yards rushing in the contest, finished his final campaign at Forrest with 651 yards on 92 carries.
Austin Harmon had 44 yards on eight touches, Jacob Jones rushed for 8 yards, and Anthony Kritz ended up with 2 yards.
Jones completed one pass for Forrest, hooking up with Logan Hollingsworth for 12 yards.
On defense, Blake Leonard led the Rockets in tackles in the contest with a dozen, bringing his team-leading total to 65 on the season.
Boone Sweeney and Chance Hargrove came up with 11 takedowns in the game, while Dylan Booker and Logan Ray had nine, and Slayton Wild had eight tackles.
Riverside piled up 492 yards of total offense versus the Rockets with 361 rushing yards and 131 aerial yards.