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Russellville quarterback Conner Warhurst runs the ball against Deshler.

RHS battles adversity to get rivalry win over Deshler

Add another game to the long list of memorable matchups in the history of the Russellville–Deshler football series.

After the two schools didn’t meet on the football field this past year because of a pandemic forfeit by DHS, the varsity teams got together again Friday night to break an all-time series tie of 45-45-4.

Russellville got the home victory this time by a 45-37 score, with storylines aplenty.

The RHS program turned to its quality depth to overcome adversity that seemed to come at the team in waves during game week.

COVID-19 protocols, sickness and injuries forced adjustments to some of the usual roles of the players and coaching staff, which made this victory a true team effort.

Competing Friday night without head coach John Ritter, starting quarterback Gabe Amick and four starters on defense was challenging. Additionally, a large number of players had to miss valuable practice time during game week.

The resilient RHS team used the opportunities presented to them to band together and get the win to improve to 2-0 on the season.

Many of the coaching decisions during the game rested on the shoulders of the coordinators, Chris Balentine on defense and Brett Voss on offense.

“It’s kinda crazy, but we had talked about this,” Balentine said. “If anybody went down, we had a plan. If John went down, Brett would run the offense, and I would run the defense.

“I’ve been a head coach before,” Balentine added, “so, I wouldn’t say the final decisions rested with me, but I guess it was on me to decide to kick or go for it or whatever. The whole staff had to do more.”

Voss praised Warhurst for stepping into the starting quarterback role and the team as a whole in getting the win, including Boots McCulloch carrying more of the load at running back and getting the ball into TJ King’s hands more in the second half.

“I cannot stress this enough: It was a total team effort as far as players, coaches, managers and everybody. That’s why this feels so good; it was a total team effort,” Voss said.

After the opening RHS drive of the evening ended with a punt, the Tigers of Tuscumbia put together an 11-play scoring drive that put Deshler up 7-0. The next Russellville possession consisted of a false start penalty, a 2-yard loss on a run, an intentional grounding penalty and a safety that gave DHS the 9-0 advantage.

Russellville was in need of a positive spark, and the team got it on the free kick after the safety. Deshler fumbled the ball, and Malachi Duncan of RHS recovered it.

Warhurst led the squad on a 10-play drive capped by an 8-yard touchdown run by McCulloch. The Manny Martinez PAT kick was good, and with 9:44 remaining the first half, RHS had cut the deficit to two points.

It didn’t take long for the Russellville special teams unit to make another impact. Emitt Green blocked his first of two Deshler punts in the game after the next DHS drive was short-lived.

Duncan was on the scene to recover the ball after the punt block, and he scored a touchdown. Martinez added the extra point to give RHS a 14-9 lead with 8:17 to go in the first half.

Deshler answered with a 14-play TD drive, and with the successful PAT kick, Tigers retook the lead 16-14 with 1:12 left on the second-quarter clock.

Russellville then went to the air to get back into scoring position before halftime. Warhurst connected with Nathan Brockway for a first down to start the drive, and that was followed by a completion to King.

A Deshler pass interference penalty followed on the next play, and a McCulloch carry took the ball to the Deshler 2-yard-line.

A Russellville holding penalty moved the ball back to the DHS 35.

A completed pass from Warhurst to Bralynn Vincent gave Russellville an attempt at a 30-yard field goal, and Martinez booted the kick through as time expired in the half to give RHS the 17-16 lead at the half.

The second half was filled with multiple scoring plays that allowed the teams to swap the lead back and forth throughout the final two quarters. During the third period, the first RHS possession ended when Deshler intercepted a pass and returned it for a long TD run to put DHS up 23-17. Taylor Crumpton took the ensuing kickoff return all the way to the end zone for a Russellville score, and the Martinez PAT put RHS up 24-23 with 5:22 remaining in the quarter. Deshler answered to take a 30-24 advantage into the game’s final quarter.

The fourth period was highlighted by RHS’ King. The talented junior scored on rushes of 29 and 34 yards on consecutive Russellville drives to put the Golden Tigers up 38-30 after Martinez added the extra points.

The final RHS touchdown of the game came on a 3-yard run by McCulloch. Deshler added a TD with 25 seconds left on the clock, but the try for an onside kick was recovered by Warhurst to seal the victory for Russellville.

“The second half we played six tenth-graders,” Balentine said of the RHS defensive side of the ball. “We missed a lot of tackles but made some good plays. We blocked two punts and did some good things, but we’ve got to get healthy, especially before next week, getting into region play.

“Coach Voss and the offensive guys did a good job. They made some adjustments at halftime, gave TJ the ball, and that’s what won the game.”

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