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Spartans prove too much for Golden Tigers, ending season

The Russellville Golden Tigers hosted the Pleasant Grove Spartans in round two of the AHSAA Class 5A football playoffs, and the season came to an end for the home team at the end of the contest.

Russellville fought to stay close with the highly-ranked and talented Pleasant Grove squad in the first half, but the Spartans were ultimately able to pull away for the 37-14 win.

The 10-1 Pleasant Grove group, which has played for the 5A state championship three years in a row under head coach Darrell LeBeux, proved to be a difficult matchup for the 7-5 Russellville team – or as Russellville head coach John Ritter put it, “We ran into a buzz saw.”

“They are really, really good up front on both sides, and we struggled,” Ritter said. “That’s because that’s a team that has played for three-straight state championships and looks poised to play for a fourth.”

PGHS scored first to a take a 7-0 lead with 4:29 remaining in the first quarter on a 19-yard touchdown run. Russellville tried to answer on the next possession when quarterback Harrison Burch completed two consecutive passes for good yardage. A few plays later, Burch connected with Randell Johnson on fourth down to get the ball to the Spartans’ 11-yard-line. But after three consecutive incomplete passes, the Golden Tigers attempted a 28-yard field goal; it was blocked, and Pleasant Grove returned it for a touchdown. A successful two-point try followed, and the Spartans were up 15-0 late in the first period.

A 13-yard TD pass grew the advantage to 22-0 before Russellville got another opportunity for points. The Golden Tigers got the ball down to the PGHS 10-yard-line but failed to score.

The Russellville defense would force a punt on the next possession, and the Golden Tigers scored on the following drive when Burch threw to a wide-open Tilmon Baker for a 46-yard TD. That made the score 22-7 with 1:39 to go in the first half.

In the second half, two Pleasant Grove touchdown runs in the third quarter grew the Spartans’ lead to 37-7.

The Russellville passing connection of Burch to Baker would strike again in the game’s final period – this time for a four-yard touchdown to make the final score 37-14 with the addition of the Manny Martinez extra-point kick.

As the season ended, Ritter talked about this year’s group of seniors, who he described as a group of warriors. “What a fun bunch,” he shared. “We’ve only got 11 seniors, and that’s a third of what we normally have, just because it’s a small class in general – but what a fun group and an absolute joy to coach.”