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RHS wins in final seconds

Russellville’s Jared Thornton (51) wrestles a J.O. Johnson player to the ground during Friday’s dramatic 26-25 win. Photo by Elliott Gordon.
Russellville’s Jared Thornton (51) wrestles a J.O. Johnson player to the ground during Friday’s dramatic 26-25 win. Photo by Elliott Gordon.

By Matt Wilson

For the FCT

Russellville walked away Friday night with a big 5A Region 8 win against J.O. Johnson.

The Golden Tigers came out with a 26-25 win in dramatic fashion after a late game-winning field goal.

Sophomore Marvin Betancourt knocked through a 25-yard field goal with two seconds left on the clock to cap a 13-play, 65-yard, game-ending drive to seal the win for the Golden Tigers and put them at 1-0 in the region and 2-0 overall.

But the ending to the game, as dramatic as it was, paled in comparison to the slugfest that took place throughout the night in Russellville.

Football games are often compared to other events such as battles or heavyweight boxing matches. This game was similar to a battle fought between two sides and it was similar to two boxers going twelve rounds, but it was unique because it was high school kids. It was high school kids giving every ounce of energy they had and deciding before the game even started that no matter the outcome, they would have to walk away and move on.

After the game, RHS head coach Mark Heaton said there was a very obvious reason that his team was able to win the game.

“Coach Tony Buckhalter works so hard with the kids getting them into shape,” Heaton said.

“That is a big reason we were able to push through and keep playing hard out there tonight.”

Looking at the sideline littered with used mustard packs and watching kids from both teams struggle with cramps and the humidity all night, Heaton might have known he would have the edge there.

At halftime the Golden Tigers were down 7-0, but they hadn’t been playing all that bad. The defense was bending but they were not breaking at all.

The offense seemed to sputter each time they built momentum. Frustration and rage could have easily set into a team playing their opening region game of the season that couldn’t quite put together a scoring drive. But Heaton wouldn’t let that happen and neither would the players.

Senior linebacker Jacob Hamilton said at halftime everyone stuck together.

“We just told each other that we had each other’s back and that we just needed to stay focused,” Hamilton said.

“Coaches told us to keep doing our job and to trust each other. We do trust each other—that’s what we do.”

Heaton said he brought out something else for everyone to focus on.

“At halftime I talked to them about Jeremiah 29:11 and how there was a plan for us,” Heaton said.

“I just told them to step out in faith and don’t try and do too much, just to stick together.”

But Heaton had plans for his team as well.

With junior defensive back Austin Kitterman sidelined with an injury, the defense was going to have to pull together and hold strong long enough for the offense to get rolling. And that’s when the heavyweight boxing match loosened up and the haymakers started flying.

Nichols connected with senior Zach Garrison for an 18-yard touchdown. After a two-point conversion, Russellville had taken the lead and, for the moment, the momentum.

But J.O. Johnson landed a crowd-silencing blow with an answering touchdown of their own midway through the third quarter.

The next drive was the Golden Tigers giving a heavy dose of body blows in the form of Deyon Hill. The junior running back started to pound away up the middle of the defense for yardage during the drive before plunging in for a touchdown. After yet another two-point conversion, Russellville had the lead 16-13 to end the third quarter. The Golden Tigers had roared back after halftime and outscored the Jaguars 16-6 to open the second half.

By the time the fourth quarter got rolling, it looked as though the last team to land a punch was going to be the last team standing. And scenes being set like that are often taken advantage of by those most prepared.

After the Golden Tiger defense gritted out drive-stalling stops, J.J. Johnson scooped up a Jaguar fumble and ran 33 yards for the score, igniting the home crowd.

But the Jaguars wouldn’t stay down. With 3:17 left in the game J.O. Johnson regained the lead after driving down and wearing away at the stamina of the Golden Tigers. 25-23 looked as though it might be the final score line, but Heaton, his coaches, and his players were prepared. They had plans.

“We started preparing for every situation during their last drive,” Heaton said.

“We were preparing in case they scored and we were preparing in case we stopped them deep in our own territory.”

The final drive for the Golden Tigers saw multiple offensive packages shuffled in and out depending on the down and distance. Third and short saw the “bone” package come in and get the tough yards. Hill made a tough grab on a pass to the sideline before eluding a Jaguar tackler and getting into the red zone.

The 13-play, 65-yard drive, which displayed what had to be the entire playbook, came down to a 25-yard field goal and a sophomore kicker.

And it went through the uprights like a heavyweight fighter hitting the canvas.

“Our young guys came through tonight,” Heaton said.

“Our preparation came through and our focus came through for us. I’m proud of our guys for sticking together.”

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