Russell quickly answered any question coach Ivan McGlone may have had about how his team would respond to last week’s loss. The Red Devils made Lewis County pay for its mistakes in the early going, then put the clamps on defensively and rolled to a 44-8 win on Friday night.
Bronson Korzep intercepted Lions quarterback Isaac Weddington on the game’s opening drive. Three plays later, Jackson McKnight was in the end zone from 26 yards out to put Russell up 7-0 less than four minutes into the game.
On the ensuing kickoff, a fumble was recovered by Will Peterman that set the Red Devils up at Lewis County’s 20-yard line. Less than a minute later, they were on the board as Korzep took it in from 17 yards out for a 14-0 lead.
Russell (5-3, 3-1) went on to score on its first four possessions to put the Lions in a hole they couldn’t get out of. Lewis County turned the ball over four times in the first half.
“I’d been on them all week about how the intensity wasn’t what it should have been last week,” McGlone said. “We played hard and made some mistakes but we held on and got by. When you get beat, you can come back and fight or you can fold up. I think we fought tonight.”
Russell’s defensive pressure kept Lewis County (5-3, 2-2) stifled throughout the first half. The Red Devils sacked Weddington four times and limited the Lions to just 19 rushing yards at halftime.
“It all starts with defensive intensity,” McGlone said. “(Lewis County) has some great players. Weddington throws the ball well and they’ve got some others. We were able to come up with some big plays early defensively and offensively we kind of took it to them.”
The Red Devils got three rushing touchdowns in the first half, the third coming on a 56-yard run by freshman Nick Conley that made the score 24-0 with 11:03 left in the second quarter.
Lewis County put together two defensive stands late in the first half but couldn’t turn either into points. Mason Thurman recovered a fumble that set up the Lions at Russell’s 16-yard line, but the drive was halted by an interception in the end zone by Bobby May. Lewis County forced the Red Devils to then punt on their next possession, only to end up having to punt it right back.
“We might get a good play or two, then we’d have a bad one,” Lions coach Josh Hughes said. “There was just no rhythm and it really took us out of our element.”
Within the first four minutes of the second half, Russell scored two more times to lead 37-0 and institute the running clock. After no pass attempts in the first half, the Red Devils went to the air for a 42-yard gain to open the half, which was followed by Korzep’s second rushing touchdown to make it 31-0.
“We thought with the things we did toward the end of the first half we still had a chance to make a run,” Hughes said. “But we just weren’t able to. We turned the ball over on our first three possessions and it’s hard to recover from that.”
The Russell defense then held steady on Lewis County’s next drive and had forced a punt, which Pennington blocked, scooped up the loose ball and scampered 27 yards for the touchdown.
The Lions finally broke into the scoring column when Weddington connected with Tyler Mustard, who then took the ball 54 yards for a touchdown with 1:24 left in the third quarter to make the score 37-8.
Weddington finished the game 13 of 22 for 115 yards and two interceptions. Mustard caught two passes for 59 yards and Chase Parker hauled in eight for 39 yards.
Conley led the rushing attack for Russell with 100 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. Korzep tallied 40 yards with his two touchdowns and McKnight carried six times for 36 yards.
The win secured the second seed in the playoffs for the Red Devils, who return home next week to face East Carter.
“We still feel like it’s a must-win game,” McGlone. “We’re pretty young at some places and not all that good. We just have to get ready. There were a couple of times tonight we didn’t contain very well but I thought overall we did all right.”