Forrest takes on top-seeded Waverley

Wednesday, November 8, 2017
Forrest seniors from left, Colby Bluthardt, Drew Carlisle, Troy Turner and Josh Hill are hoping for the upset win tonight at Waverly Central.
Tribune photos by Anthony S. Puca

On Friday night when Forrest takes the field at Waverly (8-1), most football fans will assume the number one-seeded Tigers will have an easy time with the four-seeded Rockets (4-6).

A closer examination of the two teams could make the Chapel Hill squad a trendy pick for a 2A upset.

The Rockets, just six points shy of its first undefeated record in school history and a quarterfinal appearance in 2016, enter the 2017 playoffs with its first losing season since going 5-6 in 2005.

But Forrest has had some tough breaks in 2017.

Five of its six losses came by a combined 37 points including a one point loss to both Eagleville (8-2) and Watertown (8-2), while losing to region champion Columbia Academy (9-1) and second place Lewis County (9-1).

All six opponents the Rockets lost against made the playoffs and have a combined record of 49-11.

After starting the regular season 1-6, the postseason looked bleak, but the blue and white pulled things together to finish the last part of the schedule 3-0 against Loretto, Cascade, and Community by a combined 159-61 margin of victory.

"Our team has put those losses in the past," Forrest coach Brent Johns said about the early losses. "Our kids are playing with a ton of confidence this last month."

The Rockets are no stranger to the postseason, having qualified for the playoffs the past nine seasons with a 9-25 overall playoff record since 1977.

Forrest has been a staple in the postseason since the turn of the century with 12 appearances the past 17 seasons.

The Rockets had some heartbreaking losses in the not so recent past with a first round loss by three points to Marion County in 2009, a 10-point loss to Dresden in the opening round in 2010, a second round loss by four points to Decatur County-Riverside in 2011, a first round loss to Mount Pleasant by five points in 2012, and a five points loss to Decatur County-Riverside in 2014.

The Rockets were finally able to dish out the heartbreak in the 2016 playoffs by beating Tyner Academy by seven points in the first round, Bledsoe County by three points in the second round, before making just the second quarterfinal game in program history where they lost to Marion County for the second season in a row.

Nick McClendon has rushed the ball for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Rockets, who travel to Waverly Central this week for the first round of the Class 2A playoffs.

Like many seasons in the past, Forrest will gain the majority of its yards on the ground.

Nick McClendon leads the Rockets run attack with 1,287 yards and 12 scores on 168 attempts and Troy Turner has chipped in 690 yards and 11 scores on 85 attempts while Wes McCoy adds 325 yards and four touchdowns on 50 carries.

Forrest rarely passes the ball, but quarterback Josh Meglis has completed 24-of-48 passes for 463 yards, but has thrown seven picks against just two touchdowns.

McClendon also leads the team with seven receptions and 108 yards with Spencer McCown also totaling seven grabs for 184 yards and two scores.

The Rockets defense starts with Drew Carlisle who leads the team with 88 tackles, a sack, and a 66-yard interception touchdown return.

Blaize Sweeney comes in second with 44 stops, 1.5 sacks and a pick, Turner has 35 tackles and three sacks, while Parker Stuard chips in 33 tackles and an interception.

The Rocket secondary is well-equipped to face a potent attack with McCown, McCoy, Cole Villazon, and Jeff Gross.

The Rocket defense held Eagleville, Summertown, and Columbia Academy to their lowest point totals of the season, while holding Watertown and Lewis County to the second lowest totals.

The Forrest defense has its hands full with the Waverly offensive attack.

The Waverley Tigers average almost 53 points per game and went on a tear over the final three games by averaging 69 points to finish the regular season with a bang.

"Waverly is a great high school football team," Johns pointed out. "They can score a bunch in a hurry. Average 52.3 points per game, have a great quarterback, running back and receivers. Our plan is to try and use our power run game to control the ball and clock."

That "great" quarterback would be junior Gavin Stansfield who is putting up video game like numbers this season with 2,553 yards on 128-179 attempts for 35 touchdowns and an unfathomable one interception.

Stansfield's two favorite targets are Trey Tidwell (29 receptions, 898 yards, 14 TDs) and J.D. Dixon (57 receptions, 854 yards, 13 TDs).

Both receivers have had huge games against big time competition with Tidwell catching four passes for 194 yards and two scores in the Tigers crucial one-point region win over Fairview and Dixon posted 11 catches for 180 yards and two scores in the Tigers lone loss of the season versus Huntingdon.

While Waverly excels at the passing game, the Tigers also have a high quality running scheme to compliment Stansfield.

Junior all-state running back Montez Bradley has contributed 711 yards on just 101 carries with 11 scores.

Bradley also turned in his best performance of the season against Huntingdon with 201 yards and two touchdowns.

On the defense side, the Tigers feature three dominant linebackers in senior Michael Jackson (101 tackles, 25 tackles for a loss, three blocked field goals, two INT, one sack), Jacob Smith (76 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, three sacks) and Andrew Nichols (55 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, six sacks, two blocked punts).

The Tigers were once a playoff regular with eight straight appearances from 1983 to 1990, but experienced a sharp decline in productivity that resulted in just six postseason games from 1997 to present.

Waverly has made three straight trips to the playoffs with the second semifinal appearance in school history in 2016 before a close loss to eventual 2A champion Trezevant ended the season one game shy of the championship game.

The Tigers’ 2017 season has been a continuation of the highly successful 2016 campaign with just one regular season loss to undefeated 1A powerhouse Huntingdon, 39-36

The only other team to come close to the Tigers was region opponent Fairview, who Waverly beat 50-49, but the rest of the schedule featured blowouts.

One positive the Rockets can look to is the 36-44 record of the Tigers eight wins with only four teams qualifying for the playoffs.

"Run the ball," Johns stated about how the Rockets could pull the upset. "Get first downs and score and play physical on defense."