Bearcats bow out in quarterfinal match with HazelhurstBy ALLEN ARDREY,
All of the students of Forest Elementary lined the sidewalk in front of the school and chanted, “When I say red, you say blue, red and blue” lead by a few of the Bearcat cheerleaders as the Forest High School varsity football team marched along the sidewalk in front of the school last Friday afternoon. The boys filed into the bus for the roughly 80-mile drive that would take a little over an hour to take part in their quarterfinal match against their opponent — the Hazlehurst Indians.
Last year during the 2016 MSHAA Football Championship, the Indians defeated the Bearcats 40-0 in the second round of the playoffs. In the 2017 MSHAA Football Championship-3A, the Bearcats showed marked improvement, having worked their way up the playoff brackets to battle the Indians in the third round. By a single touchdown, the Bearcats lost to the Indians 34-28. Coach Jonathon Worrell said, “The kids’ effort was amazing. There are obviously a few plays that you’d like to have back after a loss, but we really played well in all three phases. Hazlehurst just made one more play than we did.”
Beautiful fall weather accompanied the Bearcats all the way to Hazlehurst as hundreds attended the third round match between the rivaled teams. The kickoff from Forest was received well by the Indians. Within a minute of the play clock beginning the countdown to the Indian’s victory, was driven for a rushing touchdown by Hazlehurst. They attempted to convert for two points, but were unable to bypass the Bearcat’s defense.
Soon after, Forest gained possession of the ball and scored a rushing touchdown of their own, and successfully added the point after touchdown kick. Hazlehurst answer with yet another rushing touchdown and made a gutsy call to convert for two, which they did with success. The score at the end of the first quarter was Forest 7, Hazlehurst 14.
The Indians shut the Bearcats out in the second quarter, and they were able to score a passing touchdown. Again the Indians tried to convert for two points, but could not bring the attempt to fruition. Coach Worrell said, “Our defense had a tough task slowing down such an explosive offense, but played hard throughout the game. Jalyn Rowell, Isaiah Nixon, and Diwun Black were superb.” At the end of a challenging first half for the Bearcats, the score at halftime was Forest still with 7, and Hazlehurst 20.
The short time between halves is always critical, and often used to contrive a strategy in which to counteract the opposition’s momentum. Reflection and adjustments were made by the Bearcats and they came into the second half with reinvigorated energy that was used to score a rushing touchdown and a point after touchdown kick through the uprights soon into the third quarter.
On another possession, the Bearcats carried their way to another rushing touchdown and a good point after touchdown kick. Coach Worrell said of the Bearcats’ kicker, “Presley Wade was four for four on PATs and punted the ball extremely well. Wade boomed two punts that flipped the field and pinned Hazlehurst deep in their own territory.” When the third quarter came to a close, the score was Forest 21, Hazlehurst 20.
Things got a little shaky for the Bearcats in the fourth and last quarter of the game. The Indians maintained control of the ball for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter, judiciously taking their time to score their fourth rushing touchdown of the game, and even effectively converted for two points. With a minute to go in the game, Hazlehurst burst through the Bearcats’ defense and scored their final rushing touchdown of the match, and once more they strived to convert for two points, but were unable to cross into the end zone.
Forest completed a miraculous touchdown pass with less than one minute remaining in the game, and they keenly kicked the additional point after. Hazlehurst ended the game with a score of 34, while Forest had earned 28 points. Coach Worrell said, “They played really well other than a few penalties that set drives back. Renauldrick Murrell had a great night running, and Jacob Brooks played great with three rushing touchdowns and one passing.”
When asked about the loss, Coach Worrell said, “Always hurts for the season to end, especially to see careers end for seniors. Personally, who we lost to isn’t really important. Hazlehurst has a fine club and both teams play extremely tough against one another. Love to be involved with matchups like that, but hate that one side has to lose.”
Forest’s varsity football team ends their 2017-2018 season with an overall record of 10 wins and four losses, a win percentage of .714, a state rank of 64th, and a 3A division rank of 5th, just one under Hazlehurst, whose rank is 4th.
Coach Worrell had this to say on the upcoming off-season and next year’s prospects: “We’ll move forward to supporting our winter and spring sport athletes and continuing to train with the kids who only play football. I’m excited to watch our younger athletes mature and grow into their new roles.”