Golden Tigers survive scare

By Staff
Mike Self, FCT Sports Editor
RUSSELLVILLE – Clinging to a 14-6 lead late in the fourth quarter of Friday's game against Mortimer Jordan, the Russellville Golden Tigers were one defensive stop away from moving into the third round of the Class 5A playoffs.
Shawn Vandiver could sense the urgency of the moment.
"We knew we needed to make a play on defense, because our offense wasn't having a very good night," the senior linebacker would later say.
Vandiver rose to the occasion on a first-down play at the Mortimer Jordan 20-yard line, ripping the football right out of the hands of Blue Devil tailback Brent Nathan to set up the clinching touchdown as the Golden Tigers advanced with a 21-6 win.
"I thought our kids did a good job of keeping their composure after a tough first half," said Russellville head coach Perry Swindall, whose team will host J.O. Johnson this Friday in the state quarterfinals. "We played hard, and we played hard enough to win. Mortimer Jordan had some chances, and they're a good football team. If they weren't, they wouldn't be in the second round of the playoffs."
Vandiver's big play ended the Blue Devils' upset chances for good.
"They ran a toss play to my side, and I was on a blitz," he said. "Two guys were coming at me, but I fought through the block. When I tackled the guy, the ball was right in my arms so I just grabbed it and took off running.
"I wanted to score a touchdown, but somebody caught me from behind."
Vandiver was tackled at the 15-yard line, but junior running back Mike Abernathy capped off a big game with an 18-yard touchdown run three plays later to seal the win.
"Shawn made a big play for us," Swindall said. "Anytime we can get a turnover and give our offense a short field, we'll take it."
Abernathy finished the game with 151 rushing yards on 22 carries, but his biggest play of the night came in the passing game.
With Russellville (11-1) leading 7-6 and facing a third-and-eight from its own 39-yard line early in the fourth quarter, quarterback Cory Trapp faked an end-around to receiver Patrick Hines and then rolled to his right. Trapp lofted a screen pass to Abernathy, who took it the rest of the way for a 61-yard touchdown and a 14-6 lead.
"We practice that play every day," said Abernathy, who finished with five catches for 89 yards. "I pretty much had a straight shot to the end zone when I caught the ball, because everybody bit on the end-around."
Senior running back Kirby Nelson also had a productive night for Russellville, gaining 100 yards on 13 carries. His 31-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter capped off a seven-play, 84-yard drive and gave the Golden Tigers a 7-0 lead.
After a sack by Casey Morgan forced the Blue Devils (9-3) to punt, Russellville drove deep into Mortimer Jordan territory. On third-and-one from the 11-yard line, Abernathy fumbled just shy of the goal line and the Blue Devils recovered in the end zone for a touchback.
Torey Baird recovered a fumble a few plays later to give possession back to Russellville, but the Golden Tigers failed to capitalize and were forced to punt.
After another punt by the Blue Devils, Russellville put together a 12-play, 53-yard drive that ended when Trapp was stopped short of the first down on fourth-and-three from the 8-yard line.
The Golden Tigers finished the first half with nearly 200 yards of offense and drove deep into Mortimer Jordan territory three times, but all they had to show for it was a 7-0 lead at the half.
"It was frustrating, because we were the reason for our own undoing," Swindall said. "It should have been 21-0 at halftime. We were waiting for it and so were they, but we made enough mistakes to keep it from happening."
Trapp was intercepted on the opening drive of the second half, and the Blue Devils drove 69 yards in 12 plays for their first score of the night. Nathan's 3-yard touchdown run made it 7-6 with 4:16 left in the third quarter, but Rashad Graham blocked the extra point attempt to keep Russellville in front.
The Golden Tiger defense held Mortimer Jordan to 233 total yards. Most of those came after Morgan, a senior defensive lineman, left the game in the first half with an apparent knee injury. His status for this week's game against J.O. Johnson was not immediately known.