CHAPEL HILL — After a disappointing loss to intra-county rival Cornersville last week, the Forrest Rockets opened up Region 5-AA play at the Murrey E. Holton Memorial Field in Chapel Hill where they gutted out a 13-7 win over Loretto.
“Loretto came in with a great game plan and we came out slow and sluggish in the first quarter,” Forrest coach Eli Stephenson said.
“We picked it up right before the half when we got a good drive going and mixed it up a little bit.”
The Rockets (2-1, 1-0) extended their winning streak over the Mustangs to five games, but Friday night’s win was the closest margin in the series.
The Forrest defense continued its fine play on the season as they allowed just 140 yards of total offense in the game with the only Loretto touchdown coming in the third quarter on a Carter Daniels 30-yard touchdown pass to Jackson Traglia.
The Rockets put up 260 yards of total offense with 140 coming in the ground game led by Tayton Swift, who rushed for 61 yards on seven carries, including a 23-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that gave Forrest a 13-0 lead.
Brenton Burchell carried the rock eight times for 53 yards and Chris Davis had 10 touches for 35 yards and a one-yard touchdown run that opened the scoring in the first quarter.
Liam Bell had 14 yards on five carries and McCalister Wilson rushed twice for seven yards.
Quarterback Hunter Bennett turned in a solid effort behind center for the Rockets, rushing for 24 yards on five carries and the senior completed 6-of-9 passes for 68 yards.
The Rockets left four points off the board on a blocked extra point and a missed field goal, but did not turn the ball over in the turnover free game.
“That is one thing we preach to them is the team with the less turnovers and fewer mistakes will win the game,” Stephenson said.
“We had some penalties, but we didn’t have any of those big 15-yarders, so our kids are really buying in to that concept.”
In the first six possessions of the game, Forrest had the missed field goal and punted twice and the Mustangs had to punt all three times with Layne Strasser coming up with a big sack on the third possession.
After the Strasser sack, the Rockets marched 70 yards on 13 plays, capped off by Davis’ one-yard touchdown plunge with 1:40 remaining in the first half.
The extra point try was blocked and the Rockets took the six-point lead to halftime.
Loretto took the second half kickoff and started to move the ball, but a holding penalty set them back and they had to punt again.
Forrest added its final touchdown of the game and they only needed six plays to cash in with Swift finishing off the scoring drive with a 23-yard touchdown run.
“We came out firing in the third quarter and got a nice drive together and our kids began to out-physical them,” Stephenson said.
Gavin Grissom’s extra point boot was true and Forrest led 13-0 with 4:20 remaining in the third quarter.
Loretto bounced back, going on an eight-play scoring drive that was capped off on the Daniels touchdown pass.
The extra point was good and the Rockets’ lead was cut to six points with 1:09 left in the third quarter.
Forrest had the ball at their own 34-yard after the ensuing kickoff and marched down the field in an attempt to put the game away.
They drove to the 19-yard line before a penalty set them back, but they kept on going to the Loretto six-yard line where once again a holding penalty made it first-and-goal from the 15-yard line.
They drove back to the two-yard line and faced fourth-and-goal, but instead of trying a field goal that would have put them up by two scores, the Rockets tried to run it in and were stopped by the Mustangs just inches short of the goal line with 4:48 remaining in the contest.
“I made a bad decision right down there. I should have kicked and taken the points. I got greedy and that’s on me,” Stephenson said. “But I have faith in my defense, coach (Ryan) Bridges is doing an awesome job with them and we held them to seven points.”
“When you have faith in your defense you can take some chances.”
Loretto began to move in an attempt to put up the game tying score as they drove to the 46-yard line where they faced a second-and-eight when Forrest called a timeout with 2:17 left in the game.
Daniels tossed a pair of incomplete passes and on fourth down, Forrest senior Christian Hammond broke up the fourth down pass and the Rockets’ offense took the victory formation and ran out the clock for the win.
“Hammond really broke nice on that ball. He’s been doing a great job at corner for us this year,” Stephenson said. “He also caught a couple balls on offense and he is light’s out on special teams.”
“It is his senior year and he is making the most of it. I’m really proud of the way Hammond is playing.”
The ninth-ranked Rockets travel to the hole in Lynchburg Friday in a non-region battle to take on longtime rival Moore County, who dropped to 0-2 on the season after a close 8-7 loss at Eagleville.
“It’s a big rivalry game for us and that’s why we picked them back up again,” Stephenson said. “Coach (Kris) White does a great job with them and he gets them to play hard.”
“They are sound and fundamental, it’s going to be a battle and our kids are going to play hard, so we may not win pretty, but we will take any win we can get.”
The Raiders beat Forrest 35-14 at Chapel Hill last season after suffering five losses in a row versus the Rockets.
Loretto 0 0 7 0 — 7
Forrest 0 6 7 0 — 13
F — Chris Davis 1 run, (kick blocked), 1:40.
F — Tayton Swift 23 run, (Gavin Grissom kick), 4:20.
L — Jackson Traglia 30 pass from Carter Daniels, (Patton Simbeck kick), 1:05.
THE YARD STICK
Total Yards: Loretto 140, Forrest 262.
Rushing: Loretto 66, Forrest 194.
Passing: Loretto 74, Forrest 68.
First Downs: Loretto 9, Forrest 17.
Penalties: Loretto 3-14, Forrest 6-45.
Turnovers: Loretto 0, Forrest 0.
Loretto: Caden Porter 17-75, Case Tucker 5-15, Jaden Stults 1-12, Carter Daniels 4-(-36).
Forrest: Tayton Swift 7-61-TD, Brenton Burchell 8-53, Chris Davis 10-35-TD, Hunter Bennett 5-24, Liam Bell 5-14, McCalister Wilson 2-7.
Loretto: Case Tucker 7-13-74-TD-0.
Forrest: Hunter Bennett 6-9-68-0-0.
Loretto: Jackson Traglia 3-39-TD, Jack Welch 3-31, Caden Porter 1-4.
Forrest: Liam Bell 1-24, Christian Hammond 2-13, Chris Davis 1-12, Brenton Burchell 1-11, Tyler Ayers 1-8.
Loretto: Kase Tucker 3-95-31.7.
Forrest: Christian Hammond 2-62-31.0.