Russell’s boys delivered a rousing second-half performance with a district soccer championship on the line.
After their defense kept them close, the Red Devils erupted for three goals in an 18-minute span down the stretch to defeat top-seeded Boyd County 4-2 in the 63rd District final Thursday night at Tom Scott Field.
“We always find ways to persevere through the season,” said junior forward Patrick Soucy, who scored the game’s final two goals. “We have been working so well as a team. We know if we can get our groove, we can win.”
Russell definitely found it, after Boyd County had the upper hand in the first half and went up 2-1 on a Chris Fugate goal two minutes after the break.
The Lions tried repeatedly to extend the lead, but Russell goalkeeper Michael Scaggs and his defensive mates turned away a series of attacks to keep the score unchanged.
“Michael was a vacuum tonight,” Red Devils coach Joe Grizzle said. “He played beyond his size and beyond his age.”
Scaggs hardly resembled a 5-foot-6 freshman as he came out of the goal on several occasions to make plays.
“I would rather be one-on-one out of the box than one-on-one in goal with a terrible size disadvantage,” Scaggs said.
Scaggs racked up 11 saves on the night.
“I just wasn’t going to let anything else in,” Scaggs said. “I got those first goals out of my head and pretended it was 0-0. My whole defense played great.”
Russell, seeking a third consecutive regional title, picked up its overall game after being outshot 9-3 in the opening half.
“At halftime we talked about it,” Grizzle said. “I told them you’ve got to play the hardest in your life for 40 minutes. That’s the kind of effort they gave. It was a great team win.”
Midfielder Joey Fischer, who made a penalty kick midway through the first half, connected on a long direct kick to pull the Red Devils even at 2-2 with just under 19 minutes remaining.
“That was probably one of the best shots I’ve made,” Fischer said of the 30-yard rocket. “I tried to hit it as hard as I could. We didn’t play very well in the first half, but our defense held them to a tie. (Scaggs) did amazing. He’s so tiny, but covers the whole goal.”
The score remained knotted over the next eight minutes despite activity around both nets. Boyd County goalkeeper Jaz Stephenson made a diving save, while the Lions’ Matt Blakeley fired a shot that caught the outside of the net near the post.
Soucy, one of the Red Devils’ offensive mainstays this season, broke the tie with 10:16 left. He finished from close range on a play that began with Trevor Rigsby crossing the ball and Curtis Miller trying a header that was deflected.
“I knew I had to be in the box,” Soucy said. “The ball popped right in front of me.”
The Red Devils’ wave of momentum continued as Soucy fired in another goal with 6:27 showing on the scoreboard clock.
“The whole second half turned into a real team effort,” Soucy said. “We knew coming in Boyd County was a strong team, especially after they beat us (6-2) at the start of the season. We’ve grown as a team and bonded.”
Russell (9-11) and Boyd County (10-7-1) played challenging schedules to get ready for the postseason. Both teams move on to the 16th Region Tournament next week at the home of the 62nd District winner.
“We made a few mistakes tonight and Russell definitely capitalized,” Lions coach William Ferguson said. “They were more than ready to play. As soon as we made a mistake, they took advantage.”
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.