Rockets dominate Eagles in first round win

Anthony S. Puca Sports Editor
Posted 11/10/20

The East Hickman Eagles came in to Friday night’s first round Class 2A playoff game at Murrey E. Holton Memorial Field in Chapel Hill averaging 28 points per game, but left with just a meaningless fourth quarter touchdown versus a stingy Forrest defense that’s is allowing only 10.9 points per game on the season.

“This win is huge, we came out and played hard and we get to move on,” Forrest coach Eli Stephenson said. “There are sixteen teams left in 2A and we are one of them.”

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Rockets dominate Eagles in first round win

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The East Hickman Eagles came in to Friday night’s first round Class 2A playoff game at Murrey E. Holton Memorial Field in Chapel Hill averaging 28 points per game, but left with just a meaningless fourth quarter touchdown versus a stingy Forrest defense that’s is allowing only 10.9 points per game on the season.

“This win is huge, we came out and played hard and we get to move on,” Forrest coach Eli Stephenson said. “There are sixteen teams left in 2A and we are one of them.”

The Rockets’ offense came in to the contest averaging 14.4 points per game and nearly doubled it as they scored four times in the 28-7 win.

“We preached all week that we have to be physical and put the ball in the end zone and we came out in our heavy package and ran the ball real well and when they brought some guys up in the box we were able to hit them over top,” Stephenson said. “JoJo (Whitaker) did a heck of a job tonight, he ran the ball like a madman and our offensive line did a heck of a job picking up their adjustments on the fly.”

Junior receiver McCalister Wilson had a big night for the Rockets, catching two touchdown passes as quarterback Max Kirby connected on four out of the five tosses he attempted for 120 yards.

“I’m very excited about those two touchdowns, Kirby threw some great passes and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Wilson said. “Most of our offensive line is juniors and the few seniors we had really led tonight, they told us to step it up and I think we did that as a whole and we had good run blocking and pass blocking all night.”

Senior running back Joseph Whitaker had his best game of his career, rushing for 118 on 14 carries and a second quarter touchdown run.

“I knew it was win or go home and we had to bring it and that’s what I did,” Whitaker said. “I was patient following Noah Hill and he did a great job leading up in the hole and I read his blocks and that got me plenty of yards all night long.”

Forrest won the coin toss and elected to receive and after a nice return by Tayton Swift, the Rockets struck quickly with seven straight running plays to the East Hickman 13-yard line where Kirby found a wide open Wilson for a touchdown.

Carson Baker booted the first of his four successful PATs attempted and the Rockets led 7-0 with 6:20 remaining in the first quarter.

The Forrest defense also started fast with the senior standout linebacker Hill sacking East Hickman quarterback Kyle England on the first play.

The Eagles were forced to punt two downs later and the Rockets went to work on offense again.

Starting at their own 39-yard line, the Rockets ran six consecutive running plays down to the East Hickman 31-yard line as the first quarter ended.

Kirby went on to convert a fourth-and-one with a two-yard run and then threw to pass that was deflected right in to the waiting arms of Christian Hammond at the 17-yard line.

Three snaps later, Kirby punched it in from 1-yard out and the Rockets led 14-0.

East Hickman looked like they would pick up a first down on its next offensive series, but a holding penalty and a Layne Strasser sack put them way behind the chains and they were forced to punt again.

Brenton Burchell returned the punt to the FHS 36-yard line and then caught a Kirby pass and scooted 38 yards to the East Hickman 26-yard line where Whitaker ran for 15 more yards and two runs later, Whitaker scored and the Rockets led 21-0.

A Chris Davis sack spoiled the Eagles’ final first half drive, but they put together a nice drive to begin the second half, only to see the effort squelched on a Hunter Pendley interception at the Forrest 15-yard line.

Forrest moved out of danger before punting and then the defense forced a three-and-out and a punt, taking over at their own 42-yard line with 1:16 remaining in the third quarter.

On the next snap, Kirby found Wilson wide open again over the middle where he snagged the pass and outran the East Hickman secondary in to the end zone for a touchdown as the Rockets built an insurmountable 28-0 lead.

“I think that goes a lot to me playing video games, that sounds corny, but my favorite game is Madden and whenever I see someone out of the corner of my eye my first instinct is to run sideways and diagonal so they can’t leap out and tackle me,” Wilson said.

East Hickman put together its only scoring drive of the game after the Forrest score and trailed 28-7 with 7:44 remaining in the contest after a Cooper Harris 2-yard touchdown run.

Whitaker recovered an East Hickman onside kick and Forrest went three-and-out, staying on the ground.

East Hickman’s fate was sealed for good when Kirby intercepted England at the 41-yard line and the Rockets burned the remaining 5:20 off the clock for the win.

The Rockets (7-4) travel to Waverly (8-4) for Friday night’s second round game and the history at the Humphrey County field is not good for Forrest as they lost back-to-back first round playoffs games in 2017 and 2018 to the Tigers.

“I was here when we played them we played my freshman year and it wasn’t a good game for us, but I think this year we have the potential to beat them for once because we have the seniors here to lead us,” Wilson said. “If we believe in them they will lead us to victory.”

Waverly has two COVID-19 losses and one win while the Rockets have one COVID-19 win.

Both of those Forrest teams went in those two playoff games with losing records, while the 2020 Rockets are much more evenly matched, especially on defense as the two programs only give up 11 points per game.

“We just have to take what we did tonight and move it to next week,” Stephenson said. “We have to get in here and watch film and figure them out and get our kids in here and have a great week of practice.”

The Eagles beat Loretto 48-7 in round one and average 27.2 points per game on offense.

In the postgame huddle, the Rockets dedicated the playoff win to their fallen comrade Micah McClendon, who is currently in Atlanta rehabilitating from his spinal cord injury.

Whitaker had this to say to McClendon after the game, “Man I want to say that we are so proud of you for getting off the ventilator and this win is for you buddy.”

East Hickman 0 0 0 7-7

Forrest 7 14 7 0-28

Scoring Plays

First Quarter

Forrest-McCalister Wilson 13-yard pass from Max Kirby (Carson Baker kick), 6:20.

Second Quarter

Forrest-Max Kirby 1-yard run (Carson Baker kick), 7:41.

Forrest-Joseph Whitaker 9-yard run (Carson Baker kick), 0:37.

Third Quarter

Forrest-McCalister Wilson 58-yard pass from Max Kirby (Carson Baker kick), 1:06.

Fourth Quarter

East Hickman-Cooper Harris 2-yard run (Mason Gianokas kick), 7:44.

Total Yards: Forrest 350, East Hickman 196.

Rushing: Forrest 230, East Hickman 169.

Passing: Forrest 120, East Hickman 27.

First Downs: Forrest 19, East Hickman 12.

Penalties: Forrest 5-60, East Hickman 2-15.

Turnovers: Forrest 0, East Hickman 2.

Time of Possession: Forrest 25:49, East Hickman 22:11.

Rushing

Forrest: Joseph Whitaker 14-118-TD, Chris Davis 8-56, Tayton Swift 6-29, Brenton Burchell 7-18, Max Kirby 4-7-TD, Hunter Pendley 4-2.

East Hickman: Kyle England 15-78, Davis Ward 2-45, Malik Cook 7-24, Cooper Harris 4-20-TD, Zanaldo Morales 1-2.

Passing

Forrest: Max Kirby 4-5-120-2TD-0INT.

East Hickman: Kyle England 4-7-56-0TD-1INT.

Receiving

Forrest: McCalister Wilson 2-71-2TD, Brenton Burchell 1-38, Christian Hammond 1-11.

East Hickman: David Ward 2-15, Ethan Irvin 2-12.

Kicking

PAT

Forrest: Carson Baker 4-4.

East Hickman: Mason Gianokas 1-1.

Forrest Defense

Tackles: Noah Hill 8 (SACK), Boston Follis 5, Max Kirby 4 (FUM REC), Hunter Pendley 4 (INT), Layne Strasser 4 (SACK), Joseph Whitaker 3, Wilson McCalister 3, Brenton Burchell 2, Chris Davis 2 (SACK), Cole Perryman 2, Reese Thrasher 2, Christian Hammond 2, Tayton Swift 2.

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