Russellville defense stops Fort Payne to preserve 35-31 victory
After two weeks of emotional victories some people might have expected a let down by the Russellville football team.
That is exactly what they got in the first half as the Golden Tigers trailed by 10 points at halftime before rallying for a 35-31 win against Fort Payne in the opening round of the Class 5A state playoffs.
"I felt in the first half nobody did a good job," Russellville coach Doug Goodwin said. "They weren't very inspired."
Goodwin challenged his players in the locker room and the answered in the third quarter.
Trailing 17-7 Russellville took the second-half kick off to the Fort Payne 32-yard line and punched the ball into the end zone four plays later on a 10-yard run by Brent Calloway.
Fort Payne fumbled the ensuing kick off and Russellville's Jesse Green came up with the ball on the Fort Payne 24.
Calloway broke lose on a 20-yard run to set up first-and-goal. Three plays later he scored his second touchdown of the night on a 1-yard run to put Russellville ahead 21-17.
"We knew if we could score again we would get in there heads," Calloway said. "That is when they started fumbling and running to the wrong places."
In the first half, Fort Payne was able to move the ball at will – they converted all but two third down plays. After Russellville gained the lead, the Wildcat offense went stagnant and was forced to punt on the next two possessions.
The Golden Tigers took advantage and added another touchdown with 1:13 remaining in the third quarter when Joey Howe hit Nathan McAlister for a 50-yard scoring pass to push the lead to 28-17.
Fort Payne answered quickly, scoring on a 47-yard pass to pull within three points.
The Wildcats reclaimed the lead with 8:09 left in the game on a 5-yard pass.
Russellville was put in a situation it had faced only one other time this season – a fourth-quarter deficit.
"We knew we had to get a push (at the line of scrimmage) and run out the clock," senior center Chase Woods said. "We didn't want to give them time to score."
The Golden Tigers took over on their own 38 and picked up a couple of quick first downs. A holding penalty six plays into the drive led to a fourth-and-four situation, but Howe found Ryan Romans for the first down.
Russellville faced another first down at the Wildcat 14. Needing one yard to keep the drive going, Calloway broke lose and found the end zone to put the Golden Tigers ahead 35-31.
It was the third touchdown in the second half for Calloway who struggled in the first half.
"He got challenged at halftime like the rest of them," Goodwin said. "They responded well."
Once Russellville reclaimed the lead, it was up to the defense to keep Fort Payne from scoring.
With 2:19 remaining, the Wildcats began driving down the field, reaching the Golden Tiger 15.
Romans tipped the ball away from a Fort Payne receiver in the end zone and Demorian Abernathy sacked the Wildcat quarterback for a 7-yard loss on second down.
Both teams lined up for a final play as the clock was running out, but a penalty against Russellville gave Fort Payne an extra shot at the end zone – the pass was incomplete and the Golden Tigers escaped with a victory.
"The defense was fired up by the crowd," Romans said. "We had never been in that situation before, but now we are not worried if we get in that situation again."
Fort Payne opened the game's scoring with a 39-yard field goal in the first quarter. Russellville answered with a 2-yard touchdown run by Jyran Darby early in the second quarter.
Fort Payne regained the lead on a 25-yard touchdown pass and added to the lead on a 41-yard interception return to put the Wildcats ahead 17-7.
Calloway led Russellville with 161 yards on 28 carries while McAlister pulled down five receptions for 92 yards.
With the win Russellville advances to the second round of the playoffs for the ninth-consecutive season.
The Golden Tigers will travel to Madison County next week for a game against the Class 5A, Region 7 champions.