Panthers advance to semi-finals with close win at Forrest

Senior Amari Thomas hurdles a would-be Rocket tackler during Friday night's semi-final 15-10 win over Forrest at Chapel Hill.

The Riverside Panthers made history Friday night by becoming the first Panther football team to reach 12 wins in a season as they defeated the Forrest Rockets 15-10 in a quarterfinal matchup on the road. The Panthers failed to score for the first time this season in the first half as Forrest led 3-0 at the break with a 25-yard field goal during the final seconds of the first half. But the Panthers came out of the half clicking on all cylinders as they scored on two straight possessions to lead 15-3. The Rockets, as usual, made some drama with their own touchdown in the fourth and drove inside the Riverside red zone in the final moments but only to have Desi Thomas intercept a pass in the end zone to seal the deal.

The Rockets opened with the ball, but on their third play Caynin Perkinson knocked the ball out and Casen Reddix recovered the loose ball to give the Panthers possession. Bryce Hernandez hit Trent Smith and Parker Wilks two times, and Reddix added a run for 10 yards to get inside Rocket territory, but would turn the ball over on downs.

Stone Wallace made a big hit to force a punt the Rockets next series, but a muffed punt gave it back to them. Soon Forrest was forced to another fourth down and pressure applied by Ty Hernandez forced an incompletion. However, the Rockets would get it right back after an interception.

The Panthers looked a lot better their next offensive series with multiple great runs by Reddix and Amari Thomas along with a pass from Hernandez to Smith to get them inside the two-yard line, but on fourth down the Rockets held and it was still scoreless.

Forrest got another chance before the half and took advantage of an under thrown ball that resulted in a fluke 30-yard pass to get inside the three. With only seconds remaining they tried one pass and then went with a field goal after the incompletion.

The Panthers received the second half kickoff and on third and long Smith hauled in a pass making a circus catch near the sideline for a 27-yard completion. On fourth and one Reddix made an incredible cut and went through the hole for 27 yards and the touchdown. The Panthers went for a huge two-point conversion out of the buffalo package, and after being initially stopped, Smith was pushed in from behind by T. Hernandez for the 8-3 score.

Forrest got the surprise of a lifetime the ensuing kickoff when Chase Brock did the unexpected –– an onside kick. Brock ran alongside the bouncing ball for 10 yards and fell on it to give the Panthers back the ball with all the momentum going their way. From there it was all A. Thomas and Reddix as they ran through gaping holes running through tacklers and finished it six plays later with A. Thomas scoring from the one-yard line to make it 15-3 after the Brock PAT.

It was thought Forrest would yield to the pressure, but that would not be the case as they ran 14 plays their next possession as they marched down the field running off a lot of clock. Cole Montgomery and Perkinson recorded some tackles for a loss, but the Rockets steadily moved down and scored on a three yard run to cut the lead to 15-10.

The Panthers had some success early their next series with Reddix and A. Thomas picking up where they left off including a play where A. Thomas got some major air hurdling a guy for 10 yards. But on fourth down Forrest picked off their third pass of the night, aided by a dead ball foul had the ball on the the Panther 45-yard line.

Another personal foul gave them 15 more yards two plays later and the Rockets drove it inside the Panther red zone with only seconds remaining. The defense rose up and forced a fourth and seven, and linebacker D. Thomas was ready. “Coach told me in the timeout that were going to pass and be ready for the short pass,” said Thomas. He continued, “This was the game, we were going home or to the semis. The Forrest coaches before the game talked how they had to make sure and block number 90 and 24. I had to let them know who 25 was. Once the ball was thrown I knew I had it. Once I came down with it, it was instant relief. We are one of the last four teams in the state. Couldn’t be more excited. I like our chances if we play like we can. Ready to play now.”

After the interception for a touchback, the Panthers kneeled down in the victory formation and let the final seconds click away coming home with another close win at Chapel Hill. That brings the Panther record to 12-1 as they are riding a nine game winning streak. Riverside is in the final four and will face off against Martin-Westview. The Chargers also have one loss an advertise a five star quarterback that is committed to Alabama. Ty Simpson can do it with his legs or arm so the Panthers will have to especially mind their keys and coverage if they want a chance. Yes the game is very winnable, but they will have to overcome the intangibles of the game to be successful. The game will be live streamed on Facebook at TNL Today.

Coach Johnnie Frost said following the win, “So proud of our guys. They found a way to win when their backs were against the wall. Amazed at how they stepped up at crunch time. We made history, these fine young men have become the first RHS team to win 12 games in a season. Hats off to them and their relentless work ethic, we are doing this together. Now is there more history to make. We are once again one win away from getting to the state championship game. Come on out Friday and get behind our Panthers to help push them to victory.”

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