Vanguard rolls to rivalry win over Forest

Knights dominate Wildcats in homecoming victory

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Posted November 3, 2023 | By Mark Pinson/Special to the Ocala Gazette
Photos By Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette

Vanguard senior quarterback Fred Gaskin accounted for three touchdowns, two running and one passing, and the Knights defense added a scoop and score in a 42-0 win over rival Forest on Friday night at Booster Stadium.

The convincing victory on homecoming was the 13th in a row for Vanguard in a series that began in 1971, and it improved the Class 3S Knights to 8-2 on the season.

“Our kids were pretty amped up, the seniors wanted this game bad, and the team wanted it for the seniors,” said Vanguard coach Edwin Farmer. “We competed on both sides of the ball and all three phases of the game. We wanted to play well because we have a playoff game next week and we have to get ready to compete at a high level if we want to reach our goal.”

Class 4A Forest, which fell behind early and was never able to recover, finished the season with a record of 5-5.

“It’s hard to end the season like this,” said Wildcats coach Eoghan Cullen. “It’s a rivalry game and we wanted to give our best effort, but it didn’t work out that way. Vanguard was more physical than we were. We have to get in the weight room and get stronger because the weight room is everything. We have a good nucleus of players returning next year so the future is bright for our program.”

Vanguard got on the scoreboard first as Gaskin drove the Knights down the field and hit senior wide receiver Dallen Ponder for a 13-yard gain to the Forest 16. Gaskin capped the drive with a 9-yard touchdown run on a perfectly executed quarterback draw. The extra point by sophomore kicker Jaxson Lee gave Vanguard a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.

The Forest offense struggled to run the ball against a swarming Knights defense, and senior quarterback VJ Poole was under constant pressure when he dropped back to pass.

A short punt by the Wildcats gave Vanguard excellent field position at the Forest 25. Mitchell Brown went around right end and raced 25 yards for a touchdown. The point after made it 14-0.

Forest returned the kickoff back to its 28. Poole completed a pass to a wide receiver who was stripped of the ball and Vanguard senior Kamerion Swinton picked up the loose ball and rumbled 27 yards for a touchdown. Swinton, who was a disruptive force, also had a pair of sacks in the game. The extra point by Lee gave the Knights a 21-0 lead with 10:36 left in the second quarter.

The Wildcats picked up a pair of first downs on their next possession, but an incomplete pass by Poole and a sack of Poole by Gaskin ended the threat.

Vanguard marched 68 yards in seven plays with Gaskin showing his elusiveness on a 30-yard scoring scamper. The point after was good to put the Knights on top by a score of 28-0.

Forest was forced to punt on its next possession and a good punt return by Vanguard’s Tay’Juan Leslie and a facemask penalty moved the ball to the Wildcats 20-yard line with just 13 seconds left in the second period.

Gaskin rolled right and found senior wide receiver Jamil Watkins in the back of the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown pass. The point after made it 35-0 at the half.

A running clock was used for the remainder of the game. Vanguard tacked on a final touchdown in the third quarter to extend its lead to 42-0.

Forest attempted a 55-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter, but the kick sailed wide left to leave the Wildcats scoreless.

Vanguard ran out the clock to seal the victory.

The Knights will host a state playoff game on Friday night at Booster Stadium. The opponent will be determined on Sunday afternoon.

“I love how we’re playing,” coach Farmer said. “We’ll have a watch party on Sunday and find out who we are going to play on Friday night. The playoffs are the next season, and we need to stay focused, not turn the ball over and be prepared to execute and win.”

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