Raceland senior wide receiver John Valencourt loves beating Russell. He doesn’t know what losing to the Red Devils feels like, either.
For the fifth straight, and possibly last time, Raceland defeated Russell 25-14 in the Rail Cities Bowl on Friday night at Russell High School.
For Valencourt, nothing is sweeter than getting a win over Raceland’s rivals to the east.
“I’m pretty proud of my team because I couldn’t ask for anything else,” Valencourt said. “I just love beating this team more than any other team. It’s so special. It’s such a big rivalry because we’re so close.
“It’s a brother-on-brother type of game.”
On the opening kickoff, it was Valencourt who made the first strike for the Rams, when he took the ball 80 yards down to the Russell 10-yard line.
That set up a Daylin Beach four-yard touchdown run and had Raceland in the lead before a minute went off the game clock.
Coming into the game, Valencourt had been ill with a 103-degree temperature. He surprised Raceland coach T.J. Maynard when he took the opening kickoff deep into Red Devil territory like that.
“It was a big momentum boost for us,” Maynard said. “Going into today we didn’t know what we were going to have out of him. And for him to suck it up and start the way he did it was big on his part.”
After taking an early 6-0 lead, Russell was unable to make anything happen on offense in the first half.
Russell’s first possession ended in a punt. Then, on the next possession on its own 12-yard line, Russell quarterback Lance Evans fumbled the snap, which was recovered by Raceland’s Connor Messer.
This led to a Messer eight-yard jet sweep touchdown run and a 12-0 lead for Raceland.
The sequence was an example of the differences in offense with Raceland having 140 yards of offense, compared to Russell’s 64 yards in the first half.
“We just didn’t play very good defense early,” Russell coach Ivan McGlone said. “I don’t know if their speed was surprising to us, but it shouldn’t be. We knew we would have trouble with their speed because we had trouble with it all year.”
Raceland’s defense stepped up big, forcing Evans into throwing his first two interceptions of the year on back-to-back possessions in the first half — once on a good read by Colton Griffith, the other by Valencourt on a ball best described as a “duck.”
“This has got to be mine,” Valencourt said to himself when he saw the ball float in the air. “I had to have that ball to help my team out.”
In between the two Evans interceptions, Raceland had turnover problems of its own. QB Adam Elkins threw two picks as well.
The first one was on the Red Devil 16-yard line by Russell cornerback Jackson McKnight, the second on a tipped ball by defensive end Jon Kennedy.
Raceland had four turnovers overall in the game, including two fumbles deep in Russell territory. For Maynard, it seems like every big game comes with big turnovers for the Rams.
“We have to take care of the ball in big games,” Maynard said. “We’re putting the ball on the ground, and that’s going to cost us, especially going into the next part of the season where you win or go home. We can’t afford fumbles or interceptions.”
Raceland (8-2) added another touchdown early in the second quarter when Elkins found Rodney Vance for a 13-yard pass and 19-0 lead at halftime.
Instead of laying down though, Russell responded on the first drive of the second half when Troy Huffine broke for a 68-yard run. This set up a Bronson Korzep six-yard touchdown.
Russell (6-4) got another big run from Korzep (63 yards) before Googie Hayes found the end zone on a two-yard run.
In the end, Huffine totaled 93 yards while Korzep put in 90 for the game, but it was too late as Raceland just ran clock in the second half.
“We didn’t totally lay down,” McGlone said. “You’re down 19-0 that early and you start to add it up and you think 38, then 76 ... you know that kind of thing. (Raceland) still had drives that ate up the clock, but we were a little better offensively.”
Raceland’s leading rushers were Beach with 74 yards and Zack Litteral with 60 yards. Elkins threw for 61 yards and had two touchdowns in the game.
For a team accustomed to big plays and big numbers, this kind of win and those sensible numbers were just fine for Maynard.
“We didn’t get those big plays we’re accustomed to, but Russell’s a good team,” Maynard said. “We were able to grind some first downs out and keep going. When you have a lead like that it’s about grinding it out. It’s not about putting points on the board it’s about getting a victory.”
Both teams will play home playoff games next week. Raceland will host Allen Central while Russell will go up against Garrard County.
KYLE HOBSTETTER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2658.