Forest edges West Port for happy homecoming

Wildcats beat Wolf Pack in key district game

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Posted October 27, 2023 | By Mark Pinson/Special to the Ocala Gazette
Photos By Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette

Forest senior quarterback VJ Poole tossed a pair of touchdown passes, and the Wildcats’ defense forced two West Port turnovers, including a key fumble recovery inside its 10-yard line in the closing minutes, to seal a hard-fought 17-14 win over the Wolf Pack on Friday night.

The Class 4A-District 5 homecoming victory improved Forest to 5-4 on the season and increased the Wildcats chances of qualifying for the state playoffs.

“We got the dub and it sure feels good,” said Forest coach Eoghan Cullen. “I’m so proud of these guys, it wasn’t the prettiest game, but they fought and fought and got the job done.”

The disappointing loss ends the season for West Port with a record of 6-4, which is the best in school history. The Wolf Pack had not one, but two touchdowns nullified because of costly holding penalties.

“The kids played really hard, we had our opportunities but just didn’t get it in the box,” said second-year Wolf Pack coach Greg Harper. “The penalties were absolute killers, but I’m very proud of this team because they accomplished a lot, and the seniors did a really nice job. We’re still building this program and I think West Port is a sleeping giant in Ocala. We have a lot of great players coming back next year and we’ll learn from this.”

West Port looked like it had scored first on a 9-yard run by junior Nasir Allen midway through the opening quarter, but a holding penalty wiped out the touchdown. A fourth-down sack of Wolf Pack quarterback Brittin Stevens by Forest senior lineman Elijah Dennis ended the threat.

Forest struck first when a short West Port punt gave the Wildcats great field position at the Wolf Pack 36. On first down, Poole connected with senior wide receiver Isayah Osbourne down the right sideline for a touchdown. The extra point by senior Collin Scroggie gave Forest a 7-0 lead midway through the second period.

West Port’s next possession ended with a Stevens fumble that was recovered by Forest defensive end Lazaro Abuin.

But Forest returned the favor when running back Jamarian Whitter was hit hard, lost control of the ball and Wolf Pack junior defensive end Ayden Demartino scooped up the loose ball and rumbled 58 yards for a touchdown. The point after by Eduardo Cavadia tied the score at 7 with 5:29 left in the second period.

Forest answered with a methodical, 15-play, 57-yard drive that Poole capped with a perfect slant pass to senior wide receiver Matthew Hart for an 11-yard touchdown. Poole completed 10 of 21 passes for 116 yards. The extra point by Scroggie gave the Wildcats a 14-7 lead at the end of the first half.

West Port was forced to punt on its first possession of the third quarter and Forest moved into scoring territory with the aid of a pair of costly penalties against the Wolf Pack. The drive stalled and Scroggie came on to boot a 45-yard field goal to give the Wildcats a 17-7 lead with 7:07 left in the period.

West Port put together a 14-play, 80-yard drive that was finished off with a 9-yard run on a quarterback draw by Stevens. The left-handed Stevens completed 7 of 16 passes for 98 yards. The point after pulled the Wolf Pack within 17-14

After an exchange of punts, West Port was on the move again as Stevens hooked up with wide receiver Giovanni Wright on back-to-back pass plays of 14 and 13 yards down to the Forest four with less than 3 minutes remaining in the game.

On first down. Stevens and the running back mishandled the handoff and Forest recovered the ball to kill the Wolf Pack threat.

Forest was able to keep the ball on the ground and ran out the clock on the homecoming victory.

The Wildcats will face rival Vanguard on Friday night.

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