To call Friday’s Russell-Ashland game an old-school slugfest would be an understatement.
Ashland needed just one touchdown and a lot of defense to defeat Russell 7-6 at Henry R. Evans Stadium.
But no matter how close the final score was, Ashland senior defensive end Tyler Rose said he will take any win over the rival Red Devils.
“Anytime you beat Russell, it’s big,” Rose said. “Whether the score is 7-6, 1-0 or 2-0 it’s always a big win just because it’s Russell.”
Going into the game, Ashland coach Tony Love said his team needed to get better at stopping the run. In the first three games the Tomcats had allowed a total of 880 rushing yards.
Against Russell’s ground-and-pound offense, the Tomcats allowed just 183 rushing yards.
“I’m very happy about that because what we’ve been giving up has been rushing yards,” Love said. “Our coverage has been pretty good, but teams haven’t had to throw the ball because they could run so easy. We knew what they were going to do and our kids were ready for it.”
What the Tomcat defense might not have been ready for was the amount of defensive snaps it played.
Russell ran 56 offensive plays, compared to Ashland’s 37, and the Red Devils had 51 rushes.
“We challenged our defense the past three weeks about getting better,” Love said. “Finally we stepped up. That was a lot of defensive snaps, and that’s why we conditioned. That’s why we hit the weights as hard as we do, so we can be ready for these things.”
As the Ashland defense stepped up, the offense struggled to find its footing early. In the first quarter, the Tomcats had only 13 yards and zero first downs.
On the first drive of the second quarter the Tomcats offense finally opened up when quarterback Hunter Prince found Trent Woods on a 25-yard pass.
Quinton Baker followed with a 32-yard run and Prince capped off the three-play drive with a 23-yard touchdown run for the Tomcats’ only score of the game.
It took just three plays to make up a majority of the Tomcats’ offense on Friday, but Russell coach Ivan McGlone said it was enough.
“I thought we played good enough defense to win the ball game,” McGlone said. “It was a pretty physical game, and we had an opportunity but we just didn’t do the things we needed to do.”
Russell took an early lead in the first quarter on a 36-yard field goal by Patrick Soucy. The senior kicker also had a 32-yarder late in the second.
Then, after Ashland fumbled the following kickoff, Soucy lined up for a 50-yard field goal that would have given Russell the lead heading into halftime.
But a bad snap followed by a hurried kick squashed the Red Devils’ chances of gaining a lead.
“We felt like he had a chance,” McGlone said. “But that’s an execution thing. We didn’t execute that play.”
Russell (1-2) relied heavily on freshman running back Nick Conley, who finished the game with 23 carries on 100 yards while senior Ethan Thompson added 50 yards.
For the first time all season, Ashland (2-2) was held without a 100-yard rusher. Baker had 85 yards on 13 carries and Prince ran for 78 yards on 10 carries.
However, for the first time in three weeks, the Tomcats outgained its opponent on the ground as Ashland had a total of 186 rushing yards.
“They weren’t going away from what their game plan was, which was bring more than we could block,” Love said. “They were bringing the house, and they were gambling that they we’re able to stop us. But we were able to move the ball and as long as we have more points that is all that matters.”
Russell had a chance to win, getting the ball at its own 20 with 1:44 left. Senior quarterback Ramsey Mullins was inserted into the game for his arm.
Mullins ran for six yards, followed by two runs by Conley that made it 4th and 1 on the 29.
After a false start pushed it to fourth and 6, Mullins found an open receiver close to the first-down marker. Ashland linebacker Drew O’Bryan put a hit on him to jar the ball loose and give Ashland the win.
“Coach always preaches defense wins championships,” Rose said. “Drew, being as young as he is and stepping up the way he has, you can’t ask for a better linebacker than Drew. I love him and all my teammates and we came together as a family tonight. That’s why we won.”
KYLE HOBSTETTER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2658.