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Golden Tigers down Lee Generals 38-35

By Brannon King for the FCT

There have been many football games played at Russellville High School, but it’s probably safe to say there hasn’t been one quite like the one seen Friday night against the Lee Generals.

The Golden Tigers (2-0, 1-0) pulled out a thrilling, 38-35 home win when Payton Nichols found Colin Garrison in the end zone on fourth down for a 26-yard touchdown pass with only eight seconds remaining in the game.

The game-winning throw and catch was the second fourth-down conversion of the final drive for RHS.  Earlier, Nichols somehow scrambled and bought enough time to locate Logan Jones on a fourth-and-15 from deep inside Russellville’s own territory. Marvin Betancourt also had a couple of clutch catches in the game’s final minute to put the Golden Tigers in the position to claim the victory. Betancourt’s 22-yard field goal halfway through the third quarter accounted for the three points that later proved to be the difference.

After the final Russellville touchdown, there was just enough time on the clock for Lee (1-1, 0-1) to try for a last second answer. A dead ball penalty after the RHS TD allowed the Golden Tigers to kick off from the Lee 45-yard-line. Russellville chose to kick it short, but it was too short. The ball didn’t travel the necessary ten yards before RHS could touch it, and Lee was able to take the ball without the clock running out, which allowed for one more play for the Generals. After a few laterals, Russellville’s Devin Buckhalter stepped in front of a Lee toss and secured the ball near mid-field to seal the win for RHS.

The wild and crazy game left the Lee players disappointed and Russellville excited and celebrating.  Meanwhile, Russellville’s Coach Mark Heaton looked as though he had just finished a marathon.

“I told our guys at halftime that championship football teams find a way to win football games; they never stop, and they always believe that they’ve got a chance,” Heaton said.

“On fourth down, we got in a ‘Hail Mary’ situation and thankfully got flushed out of the pocket because it wasn’t there. We had a little lateral called and just did a great job fighting to keep the play alive, and Logan Jones made a great catch. We fought all the way down field, and we tried a double move on a comeback route on the sideline. The guy bit on it, and when Colin turned up, he was by himself, and Bernard Phinizee did a great job occupying the safety, which left us with nobody over the top. Brett Voss actually came to me with that, so he made a great decision to do it.”

The contest started just as one might think a wild game would. The Generals kicked it deep, and Russellville fumbled the return to set Lee up for their first touchdown. After five straight runs, Diamonte Douglas found Dashun Grays for a TD pass. On Russellville’s first drive, Nichols found Betancourt on fourth and 13 to keep things going. Two plays later, Logan Jones found the end zone on a 6-yard TD run.  Betancourt’s extra point tied the score.

It only took LHS four plays to answer with a 60-yard TD pass. The extra point gave the Generals the 14-7 advantage. Then the two teams traded fumbles. Russellville’s Bruce Ambrosio recovered the Lee fumble to give RHS the ball back. Then Russellville evened the score on a ten-yard TD run by Zaye Boyd.

Lee answered on their next possession when Tashaad Jones scored from 1-yard out with 6:20 left in the half. An interception ended the next RHS drive, but the defense made a stop and forced Lee to punt.

On a sign of things to come, RHS put together a long TD drive to score just as time expired to end the half. This time, Nichols threw to Betancourt for a two-yard touchdown to send the teams to the break tied.

The short second half kickoff caught Lee off guard, and Russellville’s Landon Ezzell recovered it.  Betancourt’s field goal put a cap on an 11-play drive and RHS led, 24-21.

The Generals grabbed the lead right back on their next possession. Douglas scored on a one-yard TD run to put his team up 28-24. Early in the fourth quarter, Boyd scored his second TD of the game, this one coming on a two-yard carry to put RHS up 31-28. The Generals then went on a long march of their own.  After 15 plays and multiple penalties, including one on a fourth down pass to keep the drive alive, Lee scored from one yard out and took the lead with 2:48 remaining.

Russellville showed heart, didn’t give up and found a way to answer for the game-winning drive to claim the win in their first region game of the season.

“We’re going to enjoy this and come back to work Sunday and get ready to beat Lawrence County,” Heaton said. “It’s been a tough last two years with them. We’ve won two close games with them, and we’ve got to get better and find a way to minimize our mistakes from this week.”

The Golden Tigers will travel to Moulton to take on the Lawrence County Red Devils next with hopes of keeping their momentum going.