Russellville improves to 3-0
By Matt Wilson
For the FCT
Momentum is an important part of athletics, but it is a difficult thing to control. Instead, teams often have to take advantage of it while it is in their favor and buckle down and weather the storm when the momentum turns against them.
Russellville traveled to Milton-Frank Stadium in Huntsville Sept. 11 to play their first Class 5A Region 8 road game against Columbia. And for the first half of the game it looked as though Russellville was unable to bring along any of the momentum they had from the dramatic and emotional win against J.O. Johnson a week ago.
Head coach Mark Heaton said his team just needed to worry about themselves.
“We have to find a way to overcome a start like we had tonight,” Heaton said after the game.
“We can’t worry about the other team so much and just focus on us. We’re going to have to figure it out and not let outside circumstances determine what we are able to do as a team.”
Once the Golden Tigers settled down in the second quarter, the offense found a groove and began moving the ball efficiently.
Deyon Hill put Russellville on the board with a three-yard run with 7:57 left in the opening half. A two-point conversion made it 8-0. Five minutes later quarterback Payton Nichols took a six-yard run through the Eagles’ defenders to add to the score. But more sloppy play, this time from the special teams, saw the extra point attempt sail wide. Halftime came with Russellville up 14-0, but the energy was low as the team headed into the locker room.
Nichols said the team was “kind of sloppy,” but that it was their job to overcome that.
“We’ve got leaders on the team that keep us going and keep us fired up,” Nichols said.
“Leaders like (Blake) Bendall and (Jacob) Hamilton keep everybody going and coach wants the whole offense to be fired up all the time.”
The defense played solid and held their ground time and time again even as the offense sputtered and gave Columbia good field position. The Golden Tigers held the Eagles without a first down for three quarters of the game.
The final drive by Columbia, when the outcome was already determined, was the only time Russellville’s defense surrendered yards on anything other than a miniscule scale.
“Our defense did well tonight,” Heaton said. “They played lights out—we just didn’t play that well on offense and special teams. We’ll figure it out, though.”
The second half began with the offense spinning its tires with back to back offside penalties and a timeout called just one minute into the third quarter. The lapse in focus by the offense cost the Golden Tigers two points as Columbia sacked Nichols for a safety at the 10:30 mark in the third quarter.
The ensuing kick-off bounced out of bounds, another penalty for Russellville, and it looked like momentum might shift toward the home team.
But Russellville’s defense held, playing steady and sure like they have for the first three weeks of the season. And playing off the defense’s momentum, Hill pulled the offense out of their funk the next drive breaking off gashing runs including a 24-yard rush to put Russellville in the red zone.
Two plays later Nichols scampered in for a 12-yard touchdown run, his second of the evening, and Russellville lead 21-2 halfway through the third quarter.
More sloppy play from the special teams early in the fourth quarter saw Columbia recover a muffed punt on Russellville’s 26 yard line. But the defense held their ground and Hill’s runs of 5 and 16 yards seemed to calm things down again. A 24-yard catch by Colby Tompkins put the Golden Tigers in scoring position and Hill added his second touchdown of the night with a six-yard run.
Columbia scored on a 19-yard pass with 17 seconds left in the game, but the outcome was all but decided by then. Russellville got their first region road win, 28-8, and improved to 3-0 on the season and 2-0 in 5A Region 8.
Russellville hosts Ardmore Sept. 19.