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Golden Tigers grab late play-off victory over Fairfield

Russellville High School hosted Fairfield Friday night in the first round of the AHSAA Class 5A football playoffs, and the Golden Tigers came away with a thrilling 14-7 win.

Seeking their first playoff victory since 2016, the Golden Tigers trailed Fairfield with half a minute to go in the game. Both teams had opportunities throughout the contest to put away their opponent, but when the season was in the balance, RHS turned to a reliable weapon: Conner Warhurst took a shotgun snap and ran for a touchdown to put his team up 12-7 with 33 seconds remaining, to the excitement of the home crowd.

As for every team in the state, 2020 has been a challenge for the 9-2 RHS squad. COVID-19 quarantine measures forced the Golden Tigers to forfeit their regular season finale to Madison Academy the week prior.

Finding consistency was a challenge for Russellville in the game against a talented Fairfield team that played in a region that includes two of the top teams in 5A and another that won their first round play-off game by two touchdowns over East Limestone.

Fairfield came in with a deceptive 5-5 record that included two forfeit losses of their own. Combine that with the Golden Tigers missing a week of practice because of COVID and playing only a half of football – the game against Lee-Huntsville was weather-shortened – in two weeks, and it’s easy to see why this contest came down to the wire.

“It was not our best game, but we dug down deep, and we found a way. That’s kind of what we expect out of our dudes,” said Russellville head coach John Ritter said. Ritter said he was also proud of the fight his team showed to get the win in a total team effort. “It took everybody we had at practice all week long, and it took everybody we had on this sideline to win that game.”

Russellville’s only touchdown before the game’s late moments came in the first quarter when Caleb Mathews scored a touchdown on a 34-yard run four minutes into the contest. The run came after Caden Watts intercepted a Fairfield pass to give the ball to the RHS offense. However, the extra-point kick sailed wide and was no good, putting the Golden Tigers up by six points.

The lone Fairfield touchdown of the night came with 2:15 remaining in the first quarter on a 74-yard pass that was read by the RHS defender but was just out of his reach. The Fairfield PAT kick was successful, and their lead was 7-6.

The second quarter included turnovers by both teams. Both teams had turnovers in the second half, as well.

The final scoring drive of the night featured a couple of clutch fourth-down conversion passes from RHS quarterback Gabe Amick – one to TJ King and another to Conner Warhurst. The game-winning TD by Warhurst was followed by his successful two-point conversion on a quarterback keeper.

Russellville will host Leeds this week in round two. It will be the first-ever matchup between the two schools on the football field.