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Hazlehurst shaves Forest

DAILY LEADER / BILLY W. FREEMAN Jr. / Hazlehurst's Dycelious Reese (21) sprints past a Forest defender for some positive yards Friday night at Robert McDaniel Sr. Stadium.

DAILY LEADER / BILLY W. FREEMAN Jr. / Hazlehurst’s Dycelious Reese (21) sprints past a Forest defender for some positive yards Friday night at Robert McDaniel Sr. Stadium.

HAZLEHURST – The defending state champion Hazlehurst Indians survived a tough challenge Friday night as they knocked off the Forest Bearcats 27-12 in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs at Robert McDaniel Sr. Stadium.

“We played really well defensively,” said Hazlehurst coach Randal Montgomery. “The guys played hard and finished strong in the fourth quarter. Offensively, we have a lot of things to clean up, but if we continue to play like we did tonight defensively we will be able to hang around for another game.”

The Indians and Bearcats provided a strong defensive battle for their football fans as both teams fought hard to stay alive in their hunt for a state title with the game remaining scoreless after one quarter of action.

In the second quarter, senior defensive tackle Dycelious Reese kicked off the quarter with a flash-from-the-past play to give Hazlehurst the first points of the game as he stripped the ball from Forest running back Mikell Daniels and returned the recovered fumble back 44 yards for the touchdown with 11:47 remaining. Reese also kicked the extra point and finished three-of-four on the extra point attempts for the night.

The origin for the flashback of remembrance occurred last year in the state championship game against Charleston, when Reese helped spark an Indian rally by stripping a Tiger running back and returning the ball for a touchdown.

On the next possession, Hazlehurst’s defense continued to show their strength as they held off Forest attempts to charge back into the contest.

The Bearcats finally managed to put some points on the board at the 5:04 mark as junior kicker Alex Leon nailed a 33-yard field goal. At the end of the first half, the Indians secured a 7-3 lead at halftime.

In the second half, Hazlehurst’s offense managed to get things going in spurts as they increased their lead, when Reese connected with senior receiver John Bridges on a 45-yard halfback pass for the touchdown with a 2:10 remaining in the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Forest continued their dominance on offense as they tried to wear down the Indians’ strong defense and keep Hazlehurst’s offense off the field.

The Bearcats sparked a rally after trimming into Hazlehurst’s lead at 14-6, when junior kicker Trenton Evers hit a 23-yard field goal with 7:25 left.

On the next possession, Forest defense managed to hold the Indians’ cold offense and get the ball back for another scoring drive. The Bearcats cut into Hazlehurst’s lead once again as senior quarterback Chris Mazique plowed in a one-yard touchdown with 1:46 left. Forest threatened to tie the game with a two-point conversion attempt but failed as the Indians’ defense knocked down the pass.

After that huge defensive stand, the Indians’ offense answered the challenge on the next possession as Hazlehurst’s special teams recovered an on-side kick, which set up a quick scoring drive by senior quarterback Jarvis Warner, who broke loose from Forest’s defense and galloped 45 yards to pay dirt with 1:30 remaining.

On the very next play, as the Indian’s fans were cheering the touchdown to go up 21-12, junior linebacker Cyrus Goodwin picked off a pass from Forest’s quarterback and returned it for a 43-yard touchdown and put the final stamp on the Indians victory with 1:07 left in the game.

“The kids played hard,” said Forest coach Hamer Morgan. “We made too many crucial mistakes at the end that hurt us. Hazlehurst has a very good team and they are well coached. Overall, I was very pleased with my guys’ effort, but this is a tough loss for us to handle.”

The Indians struggled to get things going on offense as they finished with 246 yards total.

D’Alex Rockingham was the offensive leader with eight carries for 71 yards.

Warner contributed 69 yards on the ground with six carries. He also completed two-of-10 passes for 34 yards and one interception. Reese completed one pass for 45 yards and caught another for 20 yards.

Bridges led all receivers with one catch for 45 yards and a touchdown.

Mazique paced the Bearcats’ offense, completing eight-of-14 pass for 92 yards and rushing for 102 yards on 30 carries.

Telandrus Craft was the top receiver for Forest with four catches for 79 yards.

Defensively, Micheal Miller was the top hard hitter for Hazlehurst with 13 tackles. Jrvarius Tanner provided 12 stops and three sacks. Bridges helped with eight tackles. Johnkil Skipper had seven tackles and four sacks. Dedric Reese picked off two pass. Goodwin had a interception and Dycelious Reese had a fumble recovery.

Hazlehurst (12-1) will host the third round of the Class 3A playoffs Friday night against the Tylertown Chiefs. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. The Chiefs defeated Collins 28-12 to advance.