Forrest focused on winning

Friday, November 11, 2016
Rocket seniors from left, Jacob Jones, Zach Russell, Billy Clanton and Slayton Wild will all play a key role for Forrest this week when they host Meigs County on Friday night at Murrey E. Holton Field in Chapel Hill in a TSSAA second round Class 2A playoff game. Tribune photo by Anthony S. Puca

Never before in the history of Forrest football have the Rockets advanced past the second round of the playoffs or won 11 games in a season, but they have a chance to shatter both records this week when they host Meigs County at Murrey E. Holton Field in Chapel Hill in a Class 2A playoff contest.

"We aren't looking at it like that, we are totally focused on controlling what the 2016 Rockets do," first-year Forrest head coach Brent Johns said. "This team had nothing to do with those other Forrest teams losing in the second round."

The Rockets won nine straight games this season before losing at Jackson County in the final week of the regular season, but bounced back in a big way last week with an emotional 21-14 come from behind win over Tyner Academy.

'Happy to advance'

Johns, always a low key coach said about the win over the Rams, "We are happy to advance and that was one of our goals from the beginning, any win in the playoffs is a good win."

Meigs County also is in new territory, claiming its first playoff win in 16 years with a decisive 49-14 win over the same Jackson County squad that spoiled Forrest's bid of an undefeated regular season.

The Tigers hold a 15-20 all-time playoff record with runner-up finishes in 1980 and 1995, but are 0-6 and have lost in the first round in every appearance since their 30-27 win over Smith County in 2000.

The Rockets are definitely on the strong side of the Class 2A bracket with seven of the eight teams still left standing, including the two opponents meeting in Chapel Hill Friday night sporting 10-1 records.

Hard road ahead

"There are no easy games left," Johns said. "We will have to play our best football from here on out if we want to meet our goals."

The Rockets have a 7-24 playoff record, but are making their eighth straight postseason appearance, tying a school record.

On the injury front, the Rockets are healthy and have had a couple of weeks of experience for a few players who had to step up after some injuries late in the regular season.

"We are as healthy as we've been going into a round two game since I've been here," said Johns, who returned to his alma mater in 2013 to be the offensive coordinator under Brian Coleman.

Similar teams

Friday night's second round contest pits two teams with very similar philosophies, run the football, stop the run and pass when necessary.

"We have to run the ball, stop the run, attack on special teams and throw timely play action passes," Johns said.

Forrest's specialty is definitely running the rock as they have accumulated 2,284 yards on the ground with five players gaining over 250 yards on the season.

The 2016 Tennessee Titans Mr. Football Lineman of the Year Award semifinalist and Wofford commit Slaton Wild leads the ground attack with 544 yards on 79 carries and five touchdowns.

Multiple weapons

All-purpose senior standout Jacob Jones is next with 432 yards on 55 carries, followed by Troy Turner (38-319-3TD), Nick McClendon (61-284-4TD) and Scrappy Osborne (43-283-2TD).

Sophomore Wesley McCoy leads Forrest with six rushing touchdowns and has 191 yards on 30 touches.

The Tigers should not overlook the Rockets' efficient aerial attack, especially senior sensation Luke Cunningham (5-221-2TD), who has added a dynamic aspect to the Forrest offense with several incredible late game catches, including last week's season saving fourth down reception that led to the game winning touchdown with 13 seconds remaining in the contest.

Wild has six catches for 172 yards and three touchdowns and McClendon has caught five balls out of his backfield position for 130 and one score.

Home helps

The Rockets know all about underperforming after long bus rides and covet the home field advantage they earned with the number one seed.

"The home field advantage is huge," Johns said. "We always play better in front of our home crowd and I'm sure we will have the crowd and student section support we have every Friday night."

Look for the Rockets to ride the wave of last week's big comeback win with their first second round triumph in school history via a very close 27-21 win over the Tigers.