It was an old-fashioned gridiron battle Friday night at Chapel Hill as the Forrest Rockets hosted the Decatur County Riverside Panthers in a Class 2A quarterfinal playoff game.
The low scoring contest came down to the final seconds as the Rockets had the ball at the Riverside 17-yard line with a chance to win, but a Desi Thomas interception in the end zone sealed a 15-10 win for the Panthers, shattering Forrest’s hopes of advancing to the semifinal round for the first time in school history.
“It was a great atmosphere and it was a tough and physical ball game,” Forrest coach Eli Stephenson said. “We knew going into the ballgame it was going to be a close game. We kept telling them that it was going to be a one possession ballgame. We had a chance at the end to take the lead, we just came up a little short.”
The Forrest defense was superb the entire night as they held a Panthers’ team that was averaging 32 points per game to a pair of third quarter touchdowns.
“The defense has been doing this all year,” Stephenson said. “They went out and executed the game plan and played fast and physical with a big goal line stand in the first half.”
Both teams rushed the ball 38 times apiece with Riverside gaining 211 yards while the Rockets ran for 152 yards.
The Rockets won the turnover battle 4-2 as Hunter Bennett, Brenton Burchell, and Christian Hammond all came up with a pick while Tayton Swift recovered a fumble on a Riverside muffed punt return.
Forrest held the Panthers to a scoreless first half for the first time this season, going to the locker room with a 3-0 lead on a Gavin Grissom 27-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
The Panthers took the second half kickoff and marched down the field to the Forrest 27-yard line where Cason Reddix took a handoff and ran through the Chapel Hill defense for a touchdown.
Trent Smith added the two-point conversion run to make it an 8-3 contest before the Panthers came up with a trick play, surprising the Rockets with an on sides kick that they recovered at the Forrest 48-yard line.
Four plays later the Panthers were back in Forrest’s end zone on a 1-yard Amari Thomas run with 6:06 remaining in the third quarter.
Chase Brock kicked the extra point for a 15-3 Riverside lead.
“Riverside had the momentum in the second half and they caught us by surprise with the onside kick, but our players never gave up,” Stephenson said. “This group is a bunch of resilient kids. They knew there was a lot of football left to be played and they fought back and gave us a chance to win.”
The Rockets were not going down without a fight as they put together a 13-play, 71-yard scoring drive that culminated on a Swift 3-yard touchdown run and Grissom added the extra point boot to make it 15-10 with 10:46 remaining in the contest.
The Panthers tried to burn off as much time off the clock as they could, using over five minutes before Bennett came up with a leaping interception at the Forrest 30-yard line with 5:31 left in the game.
Bennett marched the Rockets all the way downfield to the Riverside 17-yard line when his fourth-down pass to the corner of the end zone was picked off by Thomas.
“It was a hard fought ball game,” Stephenson said. “It was fourth down and Bennett threw the ball to the end zone to take the lead, but Riverside made a good play on the ball.”
The number four ranked Panthers (12-1) went in to victory formation, ending Forrest’s season and advancing to the semifinals at second ranked Martin-Westview (12-1).
“I thought it was a great season, the kids bought into the process and you could see them getting better every week,” Stephenson said. “They played the game the right way and each week they played for one another and left it all out there on the field. They played as a family.”
Fifth-ranked Trousdale County (11-1) heads to 10th ranked Hampton (9-2) in the other Class 2A semifinal.
Trousdale County has won nine state titles (2013, 2009, 2008, 2005, 1998, 1997, 1993, 1990, 1972), Hampton has won one (1960), Westview’s best finish was runner-up in 2001, and Riverside has never been to the finals.
“It's a privilege and honor to coach all the seniors…Hunter Bennett, Christian, Hammond, Braden Bowyer, Dominic Smithson, Brayden Jones, Nathan Hall, Layne Strasser, Isaac Burlingame, Colton Cashion, McCalister Wilson, and managers Madison Cormier and Mackenzie Pratt,” Stephenson said. “Once a Rocket, always a Rocket.”
Riverside 0 0 15 0-15
Forrest 0 3 0 7-10
Forrest-Gavin Grissom 26-yard FG, 0:00.
Riverside-Cason Reddix 27 run, Trent Smith run, 7:39.
Riverside-Amari Thomas 1 run, Chase Brock kick, 6:06.
Forrest-Tayton Swift 3 run, Grissom kick, 10:46.
Total Yards-Riverside 269, Forrest 214.
Rushing-Riverside 38-211, Forrest 38-152.
Passing-Riverside 5-9-58-0-2INT, Forrest 3-14-62-0-INT.
First Downs-Riverside 14, Forrest 14.
Turnovers-Riverside 4, Forrest 2.
Penalties-Riverside 7-47, Forrest 4-20.
Riverside-Cason Reddix 15-102,TD, Amaria Thomas 13-97-TD, Trent Smith 3-17, Jagger Couples 1-3, Desmond Thomas 1-3, Bryce Hernandez 5-(-11).
Forrest-Tayton Swift 14-52-TD, Chris Davis 9-41, Liam Bell 5-29, Brenton Burchell 6-19, Hunter Bennett 2-9, McCalister Wilson 2-2.
Riverside-Bryce Hernandez 5-9-58-0-2INT.
Forrest-Hunter Bennett 3-13-62-0-INT, Tayton Swift 0-1-0-0-0.
Riverside-Trent Smith 4-55, Cason Reddix 1-3.
Forrest-McCalister Wilson 2-25, Brenton Burchell 1-30.
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