LYNCHBURG — The Forrest Rockets had a lot to play for Friday night at Moore County, most notably for their injured teammate Micah McClendon, who suffered a serious spinal cord injury one year ago in the longstanding rivalry at Chapel Hill.
The Rockets lost that game last year and were looking for revenge on the scoreboard over their admired rival Raiders from Lynchburg, who displayed nothing but class in supporting McClendon and the Chapel Hill community after the unfortunate injury.
In what has been a hallmark for the Rockets (3-1, 1-0) this season, defense, ball control/security and some clutch offensive scoring led to a bruising 21-7 win in a series that dates back to the turn of the 20th Century.
“I knew this would be a tough game and an emotional game,” Forrest coach Eli Stephenson said. “This was the first anniversary for Micah and the boys and they wanted to win for him. They played hard, left everything out there and got the win for him.”
The Forrest defense has been superb through the first four games this season, giving up just 7.5 points per game and the Raiders met the quota, scoring on a fourth quarter touchdown while gaining a measly 60 yards on the ground.
“Our defense is doing a great job and it starts up front with our D-Line,” Stephenson said. “Our D-Line shut down the run and our linebackers were flying to the ball and they were having fun.”
Chapel Hill also won the all-important turnover battle 3-1 and ran 22 more plays than the Raiders while picking up 21 first downs and holding Moore County to 10.
“Its momentum, when you force turnovers you gain the momentum and if you are able to strike then, you can beat them while they are down,” Stephenson said. “So we have to keep getting those turnovers and keep pushing on.”
Six potential points were also left out there on two missed field goals by the Rockets.
The Rockets continued to display a balanced running attack, spreading 324 yards of rushing around nicely with Chris Davis leading the way with 98 yards on 12 carries. The senior scored two touchdowns, on a one-yard second quarter plunge and he finished off the Forrest scoring with a big 21-yard fourth quarter jaunt that cemented the win.
Tayton Swift was the workhorse with 14 carries for 69 yards while Liam Bell had a another solid outing with 68 yards on 10 touches.
Brenton Burchell only had four carries, but made the most of them as he gained 43 yards, and McCalister Wilson averaged 13 yards per carry with three touches for 39 yards.
“We were taking what they gave us,” Stephenson said. “Our tailbacks Davis and Bell did a great job running in between the tackles, we got our sweep and power going with Burchell and Swift and Wilson on the counter, and when it works like that it works out pretty good for us.”
“It’s all about that offensive line up front, Coach (Kyle) Stacey does an awesome job with those guys teaching technique and getting after fundamentals and they took that out here and performed.”
Forrest won the toss and deferred, sending the Moore County offense out to the field first and the Raiders put together a nice opening drive, marching to the Rockets’ 25-yard line where a pass to the end zone was intercepted by Burchell for a touchback.
The first Forrest offensive drive stalled to force a punt and Moore County went on the move again, back to the Forest 25-yard line where Bell came up with a huge fourth down stop on Lynchburg quarterback Connor Partin.
Bell ran for three yards on first down for the Rockets before Forrest quarterback Hunter Bennett found Swift on a swing pass that went for a first down and Bell followed with a 13-yard run to move the chains again.
Wilson scored on the next play, but it was called back for holding and the scoreless first quarter ended with Forrest on the Moore County 36-yard line.
The Rockets picked up one first down after the penalty, but another infraction pushed them back again
An interception by Keller Morey ended the drive with 7:49 remaining in the second quarter.
The Forrest defense came back with a big three-and-out, ending on a third-down sack by Carson Yates before the Rockets finally got on the board via a four-play, 60-yard drive that was highlighted by a Davis 38-yard run with Bennett capping off the series with a one-yard quarterback keeper.
Gavin Grissom’s first of three successful extra point boots on the night was true and Forrest led 7-0 with 3:47 left in the first half.
Moore County threw three-straight incomplete passes before punting the ball back to Forrest, but the Rockets went three-and-out to give the ball back to the Raiders, who could not score before the first half ended.
The Rockets put together a drive to open the second half, but it stalled out at the Moore County 29-yard line where a 47-yard field goal attempt by Grissom fell just inches short of the goalpost.
Three plays into the next Moore County drive, Layne Strasser came up with a fumble for the Rockets, who used the momentum to score again.
The Rockets went to the Wildcat formation with Swift behind center and he led Chapel Hill to the Moore County goal line where Davis punched it in from one yard out to give the Rockets a 14-0 lead with 5:58 remaining in the third quarter.
Moore County had to score to stay in the game, but the Forrest defense had other ideas as they came up with their third turnover of the game when Christian Hammond jumped on a fumble at the Raiders’ 30-yard line with 4:26 left in the third quarter.
The Rockets turned the miscue into points via a backbreaking four and half minute drive that ended on Davis’ 21-yard touchdown run that put Forrest up by three touchdowns.
The Forrest defense continued to stay strong, forcing another Moore County punt and the Rockets drove to the Raiders’ 28-yard where Grissom’s 45-yard field goal attempt could not find the middle, but Forrest was still in control with 6:12 remaining in the game.
The Raiders refused to be shutout at home as they finally got on the board on Partin’s touchdown run with 5:25 remaining in the contest.
The Forrest offense did exactly what they had to do as they held the ball for the rest of the game, running 12 plays that ate up the clock to secure the win.
The Rockets entertain Region 5-AA foe Summertown this week for homecoming and are looking to stay focused, knowing the Eagles will be coming to Chapel Hill with hopes of spoiling the festivities.
Forrest was awarded a Covid-19 forfeit over the Eagles last season and hold a 4-0 record over the Lawrence County squad that lost by seven points at home to the Rockets in 2018 and 2019.
“Summertown is a going to be a tough game, they play hard,” Stephenson said. “It’s a region game, so we just have to have a good week of practice and get ready for them.”
Forrest beat the Eagles 49-0 at Chapel Hill in the first meeting between the two squads when Summertown (2-1, 1-0) was just in its third season of participating in varsity football.
The Eagles beat Collinwood 40-27 at home on Friday.
Forrest 0 7 7 7 — 21
Moore Co. 0 0 0 7 — 7
F — Hunter Bennett 1 run, (Gavin Grissom kick), 3:47.
F — Chris Davis 1 run, (Grissom kick), 5:58.
F — Chris Davis 21 run, (Grissom kick), 11:53.
MC — Connor Partin 22 run, (Blake Bradford kick), 5:25.
Total Yards: Forrest 374, Moore County 234.
Rushing: Forrest 324, Moore County 60.
Passing: Forrest 50, Moore County 174.
First Downs: Forrest 21, Moore County 10.
Turnovers: Forrest 1, Moore County 3.
Penalties: Forrest 4-30, Moore County 2-15.
Forrest (51-324): Chris Davis 12-98-2TD, Tayton Swift 14-69, Liam Bell 10-68, Brenton Burchell 4-43, McCalister Wilson 3-39, Hunter Bennett 8-7-TD.
Moore County (19-60): Logan Hegwood 6-24, Connor Partin 8-22-TD, Dawson White 5-14.
Forrest: Hunter Bennett 7-12-50-0-INT.
Moore County: Connor Partin 11-22-0-INT.
Forrest: Tayton Swift 4-29, McCalister Wilson 1-12, Tyler Ayers 1-7, Brenton Burchell 1-2.
Moore County: Will Parker 1-56, Keller Morey 2-54, Alex Copeland 3-29, Logan Hegwood 1-23, Dawson White 3-12, Will Harder 1-1.
Interception: Brenton Burchell.
Fumble recoveries: Layne Strasser, Christian Hammond.