Unblemished Rockets blank Cascade, post back-to-back shutouts
It was rainy, wet, and nasty at Wartrace Friday night, but the Forrest Rockets shook off the adverse conditions and used a stout defense that caused four turnovers, some big special team’s plays, and a second half offensive explosion to blank Cascade 37-0 to remain undefeated on the season.
“Our kids came out and played well all night long, it was a great team win for us,” Forrest coach Eli Stephenson said. “We had a slow start, but we made some adjustments in the second half and started to play Forrest Rocket football.”
With its 28-0 shutout win over Community last week, the Rockets posted back-to-back shutouts for the first time since they started the 2015 season with a pair of road goose eggs over Huntland and Moore County.
“This is the kind of game you dream of as a coach and as a player, it was war in the trenches,” Forrest defensive coordinator Matthew Delk said. “Cascade is a great offensive team, they ran some good plays and we had to make some adjustments on the fly and we did that and I think the kids executed well.”
The Rockets started several underclassmen in the game due to injuries and they all turned in a great effort, including a pair of freshmen in Tayton Swift and Micah McClendon.
Swift rushed for 95 yards on 10 carries and scored a touchdown, while McClendon started in the defensive backfield and came up with a fumble recovery in the end zone for a score to become the fourth McClendon brother to score a touchdown for the Rockets.
Senior Cole Villazon continued his stellar season for Forrest, leading the Rockets in rushing with 134 yards on just seven carries, including a 68-yard jaunt and an electrifying, momentum changing touchdown run when he weaved through the Cascade defense as time ran out in the first half.
Villazon has rushed for 640 yards on the season with a 10.0 average per carry with 10 touchdowns.
Villazon, along with fellow senior Blaize Sweeney, led the Rockets’ defense with nine tackles.
Forrest only gave up 124 rushing yards in the contest and neither squad posted any passing yards due to the inclement weather.
Cascade won the opening coin toss and deferred with Forrest starting its first drive at their own 42-yard line where Villazon took the first down handoff and rumbled all the way to the Cascade 20.
The Rockets were unable to punch it in, but got on the scoreboard when senior Zoe Long booted her first career field goal when she drilled it through the middle of the uprights from 24 yards out, making it 3-0 with 8:56 left in the first quarter.
Three plays in to the Champions’ first offensive series, Hunter Pendley jumped on a fumble and the Rockets took over.
Forrest went backwards and had to punt with Cascade taking over in Chapel Hill territory.
The Champions put together a nice drive, but it stalled out at the Forrest 18-yard line where Drake Hodge attempted a field goal that sailed wide left into the rain.
The weather was getting worse and both teams were forced to punt on their next offensive possessions.
The Rockets got the ball back with 5:56 remaining in the first half and drove all the way to the Cascade 20-yard when a fumbled snap on a fourth down play gave the ball back to the Champions with 56 seconds left in the first half.
Two running plays moved the ball near the midfield stripe where Cascade tried for a pass, but Joel Burton picked it off for his third interception of the season.
“I told them they are coming down here and trying to get a field goal to tie it up,” Delk said. “Joel Burton made a heck of a play, the senior made a big play.”
“We tell them big time players make big time plays and he has done that all year.”
It looked like Long’s field goal might be the only points of the first half, but the Rockets came up with some trickery as Max Kirby tossed a backwards pass to Villazon, who hauled it in and broke free, weaving his way through the entire Cascade defense and diving in to the end zone for a touchdown as time ran out in the first half.
Cascade got the ball to begin the second half and were forced to punt.
Unfortunately for them, the punt bounced off Cody Sisk and Christian Hammond recovered at the Cascade 26-yard line.
On the next snap, Swift took the rock to the house and Long booted the extra point to make it a 17-0 contest with 9:43 remaining in the third quarter.
The ensuing Cascade drive was thwarted by a Spencer McCown interception on a long pass attempt and the Rockets took advantage of the turnover when Sweeney scored moments later on a 2-yard touchdown burst.
Cascade started its next drive at their own 20-yard and went nowhere, facing a fourth-and-three at the 26 when they fumbled and Villazon scooped it up and headed downfield where the ball was knocked out from behind at the one-yard line, but it bounced in to the end zone and McClendon recovered the rock for the score.
Long’s PAT was right down the middle and the Rockets led 31-0 with 3:30 remaining in the contest.
The Forrest defense held again, forcing another Cascade punt that was hauled in by McCown at the Rockets’ 37-yard line.
Forrest pounded the ball with Swift, Joseph Whittaker, and Aiden Freeman toting the rock downfield in to the Cascade red zone where Whittaker punched it in from five yards out.
The PAT snap was fumbled and Forrest led 37-0 with 6:23 left in the game.
The Champions could not break the shutout as they turned it over on downs on their last drive of the night before the Rockets went in to victory formation to claim their sixth win in a row over Cascade.
Fifth-ranked Forrest (9-0, 4-0) entertains number-six Lewis County (7-1, 3-1) Friday night at the Murrey E. Holton Memorial Field in Chapel Hill with the Region 5-AA title on the line.
“We knew it was going to come down to this, Lewis County is a real good team, so we have to come in and get ready to play for the region championship on Friday,” Stephenson said.
The Rockets have not won a region championship since the 2016 season when they set school records for most wins in a season and the deepest playoff run in program history when they posted an 11-2 record, losing to Marion County in the 2A playoff quarterfinals.
Forrest was also 9-0 that season, squandering a chance at their first undefeated regular season since 1980 when they lost 20-14 at Jackson County in the finale.
Forrest 3 7 21 6-37
Cascade 0 0 0 0-0
Forrest-Zoe Long 24-yard field goal, 8:56.
Forrest-Cole Villazon 48-yard run, Zoe Long PAT, 0.00.
Forrest-Tayton Swift 26-yard run, Zoe Long PAT, 9:43
Forrest-Blaize Sweeney 2-yard run, Zoe Long PAT, 5:51.
Forrest-Micah McClendon fumble recovery end zone, Zoe Long PAT, 1:21.
Forrest-Joseph Whittaker 5-yard run, fumbled PAT, 6:23.
Total Offense: Forrest 283, Cascade 124.
First Downs: Forrest 10, Cascade 15.
Penalties: Forrest 3-30, Cascade 4-50.
Turnovers: Forrest 0, Cascade 4.
Forrest Offense: Rushing 283, Passing 0.
Rushing: Cole Villazon 7-134-TD, Tayton Swift 10-95-TD, Blaize Sweeney 6-31-TD, Joseph Whittaker 4-10-TD, Aiden Freeman 2-11, Max Kirby 4-2, Hunter Pendley 1-0.
Passing: Max Kirby 0-2-0-0.
Field Goals: Zoe Long 1-1-24.
PAT: Zoe Long 4-4.
Kickoffs: Cole Villazon 1-45, Tayton Swift 1-36.
Punts: Spencer McCown 1-28.
Tackles: Blaize Sweeney 9 (SACK), Cole Villazon 9 (FUM REC), Joel Burton 6 (INT), Max Kirby 6, Micah McClendon 6, Spencer McCown 5 (INT), Sammy Williams 5, Cody Sisk 5, Charlie Edmondson 4, Aiden Freeman 3, Hunter Pendley 1 (FUM REC), Micah McClendon 1 (FUM REC).