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franklin county times

Survival tactics

By Staff
Mike Self FCT Sports Editor
NEW MARKET - Top-ranked Russellville got all it could handle from a feisty Buckhorn squad on Friday night, but the Golden Tigers made enough key plays on both sides of the ball to advance to the Class 5A semifinals for the fifth straight year with a surprisingly close 28-21 victory over the Bucks.
Russellville (12-1) trailed 7-0 late in the second quarter and was unable to put the Bucks away despite a strong second-half showing, finally taking the lead for good on Maurice McCulloch's 14-yard touchdown run with 4:48 remaining in the game.
The Golden Tigers will carry a 12-game win streak into next week's semifinal matchup with Athens, a team Russellville defeated 35-17 in Week 10. The winner of Friday's game at Tiger Stadium advances to Birmingham for the Super Six.
The Golden Tigers' drive toward the state championship game briefly hit a bump in the road on Friday as they found themselves trailing for the first time since the opening minutes of the Week 10 victory over Athens.
Keith Haywood stepped in front of a swing pass from Jeremy Helms and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown to ignite the home crowd and give the Bucks (9-4) a 7-0 lead with 4:47 left in the first quarter.
Russellville's offense struggled to get untracked, producing only one first down on its first four possessions.
The Golden Tigers took a conservative approach in the first half, opting for 15 running plays and only 11 pass attempts.
The Golden Tigers got the break they were looking for midway through the second quarter when Ty Cox recovered a Buckhorn fumble near midfield.
Russellville then drove 44 yards in 10 plays, getting a clutch 17-yard completion to Jarrell Nesmith on third-and-eight to keep the drive alive.
McCulloch capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run to tie the game 7-7 with 3:00 left in the first half.
The Golden Tigers had just 99 yards of offense at halftime, 13 fewer than Buckhorn tailback Cameron Kirnes. Kirnes carried 21 times for 112 yards in the first half, but Russellville's defense kept the Bucks' offense out of the end zone.
The Golden Tigers began moving the ball with more success in the second half, gaining 212 yards, but two big special teams plays helped the Bucks keep things close.
After Helms opened the third quarter with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Nesmith, the Bucks' ensuing drive stalled at their own 31.
The Golden Tigers fumbled the punt, and Buckhorn recovered at midfield. Kirnes then carried nine times for 36 yards, including a four-yard touchdown with 14 seconds left in the third quarter that tied the game 14-14.
After Helms scored on a draw play from seven yards out to put the Golden Tigers back in front, Derek Lazarus returned the ensuing kickoff 75 yards for a score to tie the game again, 21-21.
Rodney Suggs returned the ensuing kickoff to the Buckhorn 19-yard line, but a holding penalty nullified the play.
Russellville responded by turning to freshman fullback Mike Abernathy, who gained 36 yards on four carries to help set up McCulloch's go-ahead touchdown run. Alberto Martinez, kicking for an injured Chris Swinney, added the PAT to make it 28-21.
Buckhorn drove to the Russellville 37-yard line, but Adam Brewer's fourth-down pass (just his second attempt of the game) fell incomplete.
Kirnes finished the night with 163 yards on 39 carries.
McCulloch carried 13 times for 75 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught six passes for 60 yards.
Nesmith had four catches for 62 yards and a touchdown.
Helms finished the night 12-of-17 for 133 yards.
The Golden Tiger defense turned in an outstanding effort, holding the Bucks to one offensive touchdown.

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