Golden Tigers end season at home
By Matt Wilson
For the FCT
The Russellville Golden Tigers’ season came to a close Friday night as they fell 36-14 to the visiting Pleasant Grove Spartans in the opening round of the 5A high school football playoffs.
Russellville trailed 16-6 at halftime and never held the lead in a game that saw Pleasant Grove execute the zone-read offense almost to perfection on their way to rushing for 217 yards compared to Russellville’s 106.
Russellville passed for 223 yards, 60 yards better than the Spartans, but three interceptions kept Russellville from capitalizing on drives throughout the night.
Head coach Mark Heaton said his team didn’t capitalize when they needed to.
“We left too many points on the field and left too many tackles to be made out there,” Heaton said. “Especially in the first half when we had chances in the red zone and we didn’t capitalize.”
Russellville took the opening possession and drove 56 yards in 14 plays only to come up short in scoring position and turn the ball over on downs. The Spartans took over and capped a 10-play drive with a 41-yard pass touchdown. With a 7-0 lead Pleasant Grove never looked back.
Russellville finally got on the board with just over five minutes left in the opening half when Payton Nichols hit Reed Smith for a 16-yard touchdown strike. The final five minutes of the half saw the Spartans answer with another touchdown making it 14-6 and Russellville moved the ball into the Pleasant Grove half of the field. But Nichols’ first interception of the night, a tipped pass, was brought down by the Spartans with 30 seconds left in the half. Two plays later Pleasant Grove kicked a field goal and trotted into the locker room with a 16-6 lead.
“Our kids played well tonight, we just missed some opportunities out there,” Heaton said. “And their team executed really well.”
Pleasant Grove opened the second half with a three-minute drive and a touchdown. Russellville’s next possession ended in a punt.
With the score 23-6, Pleasant Grove began to lean on their running game. A three-headed threat of the quarterback and two running backs for the Spartans pounded the ball and marched down the field, eating up yardage and clock.
Just as the fourth quarter got underway, Pleasant Grove tacked on another touchdown making it a three-possession game with just over 11 minutes remaining in the game.
But as Russellville has shown all season, they are never out of a game and are never willing to quit. On their next drive, Nichols hooked up with Smith again on a quick out pass. Smith turned and blazed down the sideline, evading Spartans on his way to a 77-yard touchdown. And with a successful two-point conversion, in part due to Smith again, the Golden Tigers had made it 29-14 with 11 minutes left in the game.
But a 37-yard gain on the Spartans’ first play of the next possession killed the momentum that Russellville had just built. Another touchdown for Pleasant Grove pushed the lead back out to 22 and beyond anything Russellville would be able to track down.
Coach Heaton said he was proud of his team and that they would have to build from this season moving forward.
“I’m proud of the way our kids played this season and I’m proud of the way they’ve competed,” Heaton said. “Now we’ve got to go back to work and pick up in the spring where we left off. We’ve got to get back into our work mentality and back to the things that got us here.”
The Russellville Golden Tigers finished the season second in 5A Region 8 with an 8-3 overall record. The first-round playoff appearance in 2014 rectified the 2013 season that saw the Golden Tigers miss the playoffs.