RHS comes out on top
By Brannon King for the FCT
In a game with little scoring, there was nonetheless plenty of action as the Russellville Golden Tigers defeated the Cullman Bearcats, 6-0, Friday at home on senior night.
The two playoff-bound teams battled right to the end in the exciting game that featured strong defense, fake punts, interceptions, fumbles, crucial penalty flags and a couple of first half field goals.
When all was said and done, the Golden Tigers (9-1) had the win over the 6A Bearcats (6-4) and another confidence-builder heading into the first round of the 5A post season.
“For us and these kids, I’m so proud of the fact that they took this game very seriously,” Russellville Coach Mark Heaton said. “They challenged themselves. We told them that you’ve got to win close games in the playoffs, and you’ve got to overcome stuff in the playoffs, and we treated it just like a playoff game, and it came down to that.”
“I’m real excited about going into the playoffs with where our kids are right now and how they’re playing and the focus we’ve had this week,” Heaton added.
The first big defensive play of the night for Russellville came when Cameron DeArman sacked the quarterback on Cullman’s first drive of the game.
Russellville got things going on offense in the first quarter before mistakes and penalties kept the Golden Tigers off the scoreboard. Quarterback, Payton Nichols found Deyon Hill for a 54-yard pass completion on a third down play to give the Golden Tigers a chance to score deep inside Cullman territory. On the next play, Hill took a handoff into the end zone, but a holding penalty brought back the run.
After three running plays, the Golden Tigers lined up for a 20-yard field goal attempt, but the snap was dropped, resulting in a tackle for loss and no points on the drive.
The Bearcats were unable to get anything going on their next possession, and Russellville then put together a long scoring drive, which also took time off the clock in the second quarter. Nichols hit Nate Franklin on a good throw and catch to move the ball inside the red zone. The Golden Tigers got on the board when Marvin Betancourt kicked a 22-yard field goal with 1:55 remaining in the half.
Cullman’s next drive quickly ended when a pass on a fake punt was incomplete, giving the Golden Tigers good field position. Payton Nichols found Avery Sears on a first-down completion to get the drive started, and Betancourt finished it off with a 21-yard field goal with six seconds left in the half to give Russellville a 6-0 lead that would hold up for the rest of the game.
Russellville’s first two drives of the second half ended with interceptions, the second of which was a throw that was picked off in the end zone on a third-and-goal play.
Cullman then put together a long drive of their own. One fourth down play on the drive was successful but another was not as the Russellville defense stopped the Bearcats on a fourth down pass that was deflected and caught by the Cullman quarterback.
Russellville quickly went three and out and punted back to Cullman. Then Russellville’s Colin Garrison intercepted a pass to end the threat.
Cullman later went back to the fake punt, and this time it worked. However, their momentum did not last. On the next play from the Russellville two-yard line, the Bearcats fumbled, and Russellville’s JJ Johnson made the huge recovery.
Russellville’s next drive stalled, leading to a wild chain of events. The Golden Tigers punted, the Bearcats lost the ball on the return but then stripped it back from Russellville and returned it all the way back for a TD, but a couple of penalties on Cullman brought it back to their own ten-yard line.
Russellville’s Johnson then made another big defensive play by intercepting a Cullman pass with 50 seconds to go in the game to seal the victory for the Golden Tigers.
Russellville will host Anniston next in the first round of the playoffs Thursday.