As losses and heartbreak continued to mount early in his tenure against Ivan McGlone, Mason County coach David Buchanan discovered the only way to beat the Red Devils — his teams had to out-Russell Russell.
Friday his Royals did just that, controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides while taking advantage of early Russell miscues to post a 28-6 victory. Following years of Russell dominance the win was Mason County's fifth in the past six games against the Red Devils.
“Ivan joked with me before the game and said ‘You've got all the big, fast guys this year,’” Buchanan said. “Usually it's been the other way around so it’s nice to have guys up there who can block and try to keep them from doing what they normally do.”
Russell, which ran at will in last week's victory over Fleming County, found little room against Mason County's big yet agile line. The Red Devils rushed for 190 yards but averaged less than four yards per carry. Meanwhile Mason County's line opened holes when needed with Rashon Nelson the primary beneficiary. The junior tailback rushed for a game-high 153 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries.
“Let's face it — they are big and strong, they have good quickness and they are a good club,” McGlone said. “They are hard to block. We found a few seams and we had a shot but we couldn't make the plays when we needed to.”
Mason County (7-0) used a pair of Russell special teams miscues to take control early. The Royals recovered a muffed Russell punt on the first series of the game but gave it right back with a fumble inside the 10. Russell gave the Royals new life, however, with a fumbled snap on the punt attempt. Mason County recovered at the 11 and scored on Nelson's 1-yard plunge two plays later.
“Early on (in the series) against Russell we beat our heads against the wall and wondered how do we beat these guys? Then we realized it’s not a secret,” Buchanan said. “We just had to get better and do the little things better because that’s what decides these games. Tonight we executed, we stopped the run and made a couple nice plays on special teams to get us going.”
Russell (4-3) kept the deficit at one score until late in the second quarter but Mason County responded with two scores in the final four minutes for a 21-0 halftime lead. The second drive was highlighted by a 53-pass from Jake O’Mara to Tee King on a third-and-14 play.
“We hadn't done a good job of containment this season,” McGlone said. “Instead of making the play the secondary decided to watch the play and that happens sometimes. They just got caught in the moment.”
Russell got its only score late in the third quarter on freshman Nick Conley’s 20-yard run. Conley finished with 102 yard rushing on 20 carries.
The Royals then put the game in the hands of their running backs as they continued to chew up first downs and clock. Nelson put the contest out of reach with a 2-yard run with 5:04 remaining.
The victory gives Mason County the inside track on the district championship and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
“We have one more game to win but we’re going to have to go out and take it,” Buchanan said.”Nobody's going to give us anything. Everybody is going to be gunning for us.”