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Whipping the Wildcats

By Brannon King for the FCT

The Russellville Golden Tigers opened Class 5A playoff action with a 35-28 home win over the Guntersville Wildcats Friday night. With the victory, RHS improved to 8-3 on the season. The game was the first meeting between the two schools.

Russellville’s Zaye Boyd scored four touchdowns in the game to lead the offensive attack. On the defensive side, Kyle Tidwell intercepted a pass and also recovered a fumble.

The Russellville team came back from the previous week’s loss to Colbert County and showed that they wanted to extend the season with a playoff win all the while playing for Slate Wallace, a senior offensive lineman who suffered a season-ending leg injury in the game at Leighton.

“I’m thankful for the way the kids responded this week,” Russellville Head Coach Mark Heaton said. “We went over there to Colbert County and just didn’t play well. We went through some tough times physically with them. It was a very physical game, and we got beat up a little bit. To get a couple guys back, including Sid Willis, was huge.

“My heart hurt when I walked out onto that field, and we’re going out there to shake hands, and all I could think about was Slate Wallace. He is a tremendous player, but he’s an ever better person and leader. We wanted to make sure that we did everything in our power to keep playing and letting him help lead us as a football team.”

On the Wildcats’ second play, they fumbled, and Tidwell of RHS recovered the loose ball. However, on Russellville’s third play on offense, the Golden Tigers fumbled back to Guntersville. The Wildcats turned the gift into points a few plays later when Major Henderson ran it in for a 7-yard touchdown. Wolls Jocelyn added the extra point to make it 7-0.

Russellville immediately came back when Boyd took a handoff and raced 71-yards for a touchdown. Marvin Betancourt then equalized the score with the extra point kick.

Guntersville regained the lead with a ten-play scoring drive that included a fourth down conversion mid-way through it and was capped by a 3-yard TD run by running back Archer Charles. Jocelyn, who was perfect on the night on extra points, added the PAT to put the Wildcats up 14-7.

RHS Quarterback Payton Nichols completed three of four passes to three different receivers on Russellville’s next possession before Boyd scored again, this time on a 4-yard carry. Betancourt, who was also perfect on extra-point kicks in the game, made the score 14-14 early in the second quarter.

Russellville’s Tidwell came up with another big defensive play for the Golden Tigers when he intercepted a Guntersville pass to give the ball back to RHS.

Guntersville regained the lead with a score on a 5-yard run, but the Wildcats left 49 seconds on the clock for RHS to answer before the half. Nichols threw to Bernard Phinizee as time expired in the second quarter for a huge 28-yard TD to even the score at 21-21 at halftime.

The two teams both ended their first possessions of the second half with turnovers on downs. On Russellville’s second drive of the half, Nichols threw a 53-yard TD pass to Boyd to give RHS the lead. In the fourth quarter, Russellville’s Landon Ezzell recovered a Guntersville fumble. A few plays later, RHS fumbled it right back to the Wildcats deep in GHS territory.

Boyd gave Russellville a two-touchdown advantage on a 16-yard touchdown run before Guntersville scored with 2:22 remaining on an 8-yard carry. The last chance onside kick attempt by Guntersville went out of bounds, allowing RHS to run out the clock and finish off the game.

Russellville will travel to Birmingham next for a matchup with the Briarwood Christian Lions in round two.