Golden Tigers flatten Falcons
By Brannon King for the FCT
The Russellville Golden Tigers scored on offense, defense and special teams in a 54-7 Class 5A Region 8 win over the St. John Paul II Catholic Falcons at RHS Friday night.
Russellville (5-1, 4-0) led 34-7 at the half and got the opportunity to rest the starters in the second half, getting younger players into the game to gain valuable experience in varsity action.
Starting quarterback Payton Nichols went 8/10 passing for 126 yards and four touchdowns in only two quarters of playing time for Russellville.
Devin Buckhalter also had a big game for RHS. The sophomore accounted for two touchdowns, one as a receiver and the other as a quarterback, when he threw a TD pass in relief of Nichols. Seniors Sid Willis and Colin Garrison both made major contributions to the team in the victory. Willis stripped the ball out of the hands of a Falcon ball carrier for one of his two fumble recoveries in the game and returned it for a long score. He was also on the receiving end of Buckhalter’s TD pass. Meanwhile, Garrison scored twice. His first touchdown came on a pass reception, and the other came on a long kickoff return to start the second half.
The entire team played a big role in the victory, and Russellville Head Coach Mark Heaton was pleased with the effort. “The biggest thing I’m proud of our guys for is that we didn’t change the way we played the game,” Heaton said. “We played up to the standard that we set for ourselves, and our kids played physical. We had a couple of missed assignments that cost us early, but we got them fixed, and I’m proud of all the guys.”
The winless St. John Paul II team got on the scoreboard first in the game after a running-into-the-punter penalty on RHS kept the opening drive alive. The five-yard penalty was not enough for a first down, but the Falcons chose to go for it on fourth-and-one, and quarterback Matthew Sauter kept the ball himself and raced 61 yards for a touchdown. He then added the extra point kick to give his team the early 7-0 lead.
Russellville quickly evened the score when Payton Nichols threw a nice fade pass to the corner of the end zone to Buckhalter for a nine-yard TD play. Marvin Betancourt then added the extra point to make it 7-7, and it was the Golden Tigers’ game from there.
The next Falcon possession ended when Sid Willis chose to strip the ball from the running back instead of trying for a tackle and then went 52 yards for a touchdown on the return. Later in the first quarter, Zaye Boyd had a long run to get RHS deep into Falcon territory before Nichols threw to Colin Garrison for a ten-yard TD to make it 21-7 with 3:24 remaining in the first quarter.
Garrison later had a long punt return to set up the next RHS scoring drive, which came midway through the second quarter. A Nichols’ TD pass to Marvin Betancourt came on a four-yard scoring strike to make it 27-7.
The Falcons attempted a fake punt pass that was unsuccessful on their next possession. It took Boyd two plays to score the next TD for RHS on one 15-yard carry and a 35-yard touchdown reception from Nichols.
With Russellville leading 34-7 at the half, the two teams agreed to play only 10-minute quarters in the second half rather than the usual 12-minute periods. It took RHS less than one minute to score. Colin Garrison took the second half kickoff all the way back for a touchdown, making a number of Falcons miss along the way with the assistance of some good blocks from his teammates.
The wide margin on the scoreboard allowed Russellville to get some snaps at quarterback for Buckhalter, and he took advantage. He ran twice on a scoring drive for 33 total yards and completed both passes, with the second resulting in a 19-yard score to Willis to make it 48-7. Willis then ended the next drive of the Falcons by recovering a fumble.
RHS went on a 12-play scoring drive using six carries by Mario Cruz and a nice throw from Brantson Lambert to Wylie Boyd for a nine-yard touchdown.
The win by Russellville sets up a big game next for the Golden Tigers against the Brooks Lions. The two teams will meet in Killen, with each team battling for first place in the region standings.