Rockets in uncharted territory
It's late eight time on the gridiron this week as the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association's quarterfinal round commences Friday night and the Forrest Rockets are on board for the first time in the school's history.
Forrest (11-1) is riding a surging wave of emotion heading in to the contest with back-to-back come from behind wins, including last week's insane 16-13 triumph over Meigs County.
"I don't think we've ever had a win that big at Forrest," Forrest coach Brent Johns said. "We did overcome a ton of adversity, but I'm not surprised because this team has done that all year."
The Rockets' maiden journey into the quarterfinals will not be an easy one, hosting perennial power Marion County (11-1) in a rematch of last year's second round contest that was won easily by the Warriors 38-10 at Chapel Hill.
The Jasper squad, which sports an impressive 51-26 all-time playoff record and holds four state titles (1990, 92, 94, 95), also beat the Rockets at home 20-17 in a 1999 playoff game.
Johns talked about how the Rockets are preparing for the tough battle ahead in hopes of beating the Warriors, who have been in the playoffs every year but two (2001, 2011) since 1984.
"We are just going to prepare for Marion County like we have the past 13 weeks, there is no reason to change what works for us," Johns said. "If we will be physical and play fundamentally sound ourselves in all three phases of the game than we have a chance to meet one of our goals."
Even though the Rockets have lost twice to the Warriors at home in the playoffs, Johns believes this team will not have a letdown after last week's win and they have what it takes to erase those previous playoff setbacks.
Johns, a Forrest graduate and former player also has faith in the power of the Chapel Hill community's hometown enthusiasm that could be a huge advantage when the squads square off at Murrey E. Holton Memorial Field for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
"Of course we have a huge home field advantage, travel has always been a problem for us," Johns stated. "Our fans were unreal last week, especially in the end zone that Wild came down with his unbelievable touchdown and we expect that end zone atmosphere to be even greater this week."
Wild, who made a spectacular touchdown catch for the go ahead score last week, did not make the final cut as a finalist for the 2016 Tennessee Titans Mr. Football Class 2A Lineman of the Year Award.
"I'm proud of Slayton and all that he has accomplished, but he will be the first to tell you that this week's game is way more important than any individual awards," Johns said.
There may be a little extra motivation for the Rockets in defense of Wild's non-selection as the Warriors have both finalists for the award at the linebacker position in Alex Kirkendoll (OLB, TE) and Hunter McClain (MLB, FB).
The game plan is a simple one as it comes down to basic football---run the ball, stop them from running the ball, don't cough it up and win the special teams battle.
Johns was asked which aspect of the game was the most important for the Rockets to win in order to come out with a victory this week and he said, "Stop the run."
This Rockets' squad has a way of making special things happen and they will once again this week via a 31-28 win.