First football battle between RHS, Mars Hill comes down to last play

The first-ever meeting on the football field between the Russellville Golden Tigers and Mars Hill Panthers was a classic battle.

The two talented and determined teams gave it their all Friday night at RHS, and Mars Hill got the 31-30 win as a field goal attempt by the Golden Tigers sailed wide on the last play of the game.

Russellville (3-3) took the first quarter lead over the No. 2 in Class 3A Panthers on a seven-yard touchdown run on fourth down by Conner Warhurst. That was followed by a Manny Martinez extra-point kick. The 12-play drive featured 10 carries by Warhurst.

Mars Hill (5-1) quickly answered by taking the following kickoff to the end zone on a long return, evening the score with just two minutes remaining in the first period.

The Golden Tigers reclaimed the lead when Harrison Burch completed a pass to Randall Johnson for a 75-yard TD, and RHS was up 14-7.

An interception by the Panthers’ defense late in the first half helped to set up a 23-yard field goal, and the score was 14-10 in favor of Russellville at the break.

The teams traded punts to start the third quarter, but then Mars Hill took the lead on a 21-yard touchdown run with 5:14 to go in the period.

The Golden Tigers took two plays to regain the advantage, as Burch found TJ King for a 69-yard touchdown pass – but the extra-point attempt failed, making the score 20-17, RHS.

The large crowd watched in excitement as the two teams continued the third quarter offensive fireworks.

The Panthers needed two plays to take a 24-20 lead when a 60-yard run resulted in a touchdown.

After the following kickoff went out of bounds, Russellville’s Burch threw to Johnson again – this time for a 65-yard TD.

With RHS up 27-24 to begin the final quarter, the Golden Tigers created another big play on the first snap of the fourth period when Burch threw behind the line of scrimmage to King. He then launched a long pass to Tilmon Baker on third down that took the ball from the Russellville 21-yard-line to the Mars Hill 21. Four plays later, Martinez kicked a 33-yard field goal to give RHS a 30-24 lead with 9:59 to go in the game.

With less than three minutes remaining in the contest, Mars Hill got the ball for the final time. The Panthers went on an 11-play scoring drive capped by a nine-yard touchdown pass to Damian Thompson with 27 seconds on the clock.

After a short kickoff, Russellville got a 25-yard pass from Burch to King that was followed by two Warhurst runs, setting up a 41-yard field goal attempt by Martinez. The kick was plenty long enough but was wide of the goal post as time expired.

“That’s why you play teams like Mars Hill – to have this type of environment, to have this type of game, and unfortunately, it came down to mistakes on our part, and we made too many,” she Russellville head coach John Ritter said. “You can’t do that against a good team.”

Next, the Golden Tigers will return to region play when Brewer visits RHS for homecoming Sept. 30.

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