FMS Rockets cap perfect season with DRVC title
It's not always déjà vu all over again.
The Forrest Middle School Rockets are living proof as they exorcised last year's disappointing 14-12 loss to Community in the Duck River Valley Conference Tournament game that ruined an undefeated season.
FMS would not budge this time versus Liberty, staving off every Patriot comeback attempt with the resiliency of champions that resulted in a hard fought 24-14 DRVC title game win, capping off a perfect 9-0 season.
"It was rough, it was wet out here and it wasn't our best football," said FMS coach Chris Benne. "But we came out on top and I am proud of our guys, they worked hard all year round for this and they deserved it."
Forrest won the opening coin toss Thursday night at Murrey E. Holton Field in Chapel Hill and deferred.
The plan worked when Carson Blackwell came up with his fourth interception of the season to spoil the Patriots' first drive.
Liberty came back strong, taking over on downs to stop the potent Forrest offense, but the Rockets followed suite, recapturing the pigskin on a fumbled fourth down snap deep in Liberty territory with 1:27 remaining in the first quarter.
Three consecutive Nick McClendon runs starting at the Liberty 19-yard line put FMS in front and the eighth grade standout added the two-point conversion run, making it 8-0 with 9 seconds left in the first half.
"Scoring first set the tone, our guys were a little nervous and that kind of eased them down," said Benne.
Liberty responded quickly, scoring four plays later when Kion Johnson rumbled 48 yards for a touchdown, but the two-point conversion pass fell incomplete with 5:59 remaining in the first half.
Hunter Pendley took the ensuing kickoff to the FMS 39-yard line where the Rockets, helped by two Liberty personal fouls, marched 61 yards for a touchdown.
McClendon scored from five yards out and Blaize Sweeney punched in the two-pointer, making 16-6 with 2:48 remaining in the first half.
The Rockets held on defense, going to the locker room with the 10-point lead.
Forrest was thinking Liberty was going to attempt an onside kick to begin the second half, but the Patriots booted the ball long, pinning the Rockets back at their own 10-yard line.
The strategy worked four plays later when a bad punt snap went awry, forcing FMS punter Dalton Colvin to bat the ball out of the end zone for a Liberty safety.
After the ensuing FMS free punt, the Patriots cashed in again when Johnson ran the kick to the FMS 19-yard line.
Three snaps later, Cesar Rodriguez scored from the 8-yard line, but the two-point conversion pass failed, making it a 16-14 ballgame with 5:03 remaining in the third quarter.
Forrest fires back
The Rockets put together a nice drive, taking the ball to the Liberty 22-yard line where they had a second-and-two play turned into a turnover when Johnson intercepted a halfback pass with 2:10 remaining in the third quarter.
The Patriots moved the ball inside FMS territory before the Rockets' defense shined, beginning with a sack by McClendon that resulted in an 18-yard loss.
Three snaps later, on a fourth-and-18 play, Johnson tried to change directions on a handoff and was downed at his own 30-yard line by a swarm of Rocket defenders.
"Coach Rob (Josh Roberson) has done a great job with our defense all year and they put their heart and souls and effort into every drive and that is what won the championship," Benne said.
The FMS offensive line, led by DRVC MVP Mason Walls, dominated the next drive, pounding the ball at Liberty and it paid off on a 1-yard McClendon run. The ensuing PAT run failed, giving FMS a 22-14 lead with 4:04 remaining in the contest.
"Sometimes the offensive linemen don't get the credit they deserve, but without Mason Walls and Tate Garvin our offense would not work so well," said Benne. "Especially Mason getting all the credit he deserves."
After the FMS kickoff, a Johnson run was negated by a personal foul and on the next snap, Tate Garvin chased down the Liberty ball carrier in the end zone for a safety.
FMS would fumble after the free kick, but the Rockets' defense finished off the Patriots when Cole Villazon intercepted a Liberty pass with 1:15 left in the game.
"Hats off to Liberty and coach Jimmy Darden over there, they did a great job," Benne said. 'They had a great game plan for us and it was a dogfight and I'm proud of my guys for fighting through."
The Rockets went into the victory formation, running out the clock to claim the title.
Liberty 0 6 8 0-14
FMS 8 8 0 8-24
F-Nick McClendon 7 run (Blaize Sweeney run), 0:09.
L-Kion Johnson 48 run (run failed), 5:59.
F-McClendon 5 run (McClendon run), 2:48.
L-Cesar Rodriguez 8 run (pass failed), 5:03.
F-McClendon 1 run (run failed), 4:04.
F-Tate Garvin safety, 3:35.
All DRVC Team
Forrest: Joel Burton, Tate Garvin, Nick McClendon, Mason Walls (MVP), Blaize Sweeney, Cole Villazon.
Liberty: Kion Johnson, Austin McBee, Joshua Phillips, Iseah Prince, Mason Wright.
Moore County: Jacob Floyd, Colin Ward.
MTCS: Matthew George, Jax Green, Tyler Webb.
Community: Ethan Lohn, CJ Rivera, Elic Smith, Lane Williams.
Fayetteville: Trey Allen, Chase Hernandez, Iassac Pace, KeVonte Thomison.
Cascade: Blaze Bryson, Jay Hall, Gryphon Lefler, Hunter Jewell, Hunter Palmer.