Just when it appeared Russell had finally found the winning key, Garrard County’s lockdown defense was again there to slam the door.
The Golden Lions smothered the Red Devils at crucial moments en route to a 12-7 victory in the opening round of the Class 3A playoffs at Russell’s Henry R. Evans Stadium on Friday night. Garrard County will travel to Bourbon County next Friday.
Garrard County coach Mark Scenters was exceptionally pleased, considering the tough road environment against a program packed with tradition.
“I tried to explain to our young men the pride of (Russell’s) program, and the history of the program,” Scenters said. “I told them coming up here was going to be a different experience. We’ll take a win any way we can get it, especially coming to a place like this.”
Trailing 12-7 for the entire second half, Russell faced its final opportunity with 2:01 to go. The Red Devils had squandered away several potential scoring chances, as did Garrard County, in the half, and they were backed up at their own 7-yard line.
Four plays later, they were at Garrard County’s 12. Two of those plays resulted with incredible leaping grabs by Russell senior Jon Kennedy, one a 34-yard gain and another a 32.
“(The catches) were as good as you can get,” said Russell coach Ivan McGlone. “He’s made some great catches this year, some defensive catches, too. He’s got good hands, we’re going to miss him.”
Kennedy seemed to be the answer to another dramatic playoff win for the Red Devils — they have been no strangers to close postseason games over the past three seasons.
So, when a fourth-and-5 situation popped up at the Golden Lions’ 7-yard line with 34 seconds left, quarterback Lance Evans went to Kennedy in the back of the end zone.
Justice Lyon and Lane Cumby had the coverage at the safety position, and the ball was batted away. The sophomore and senior, respectively, stepped up in pivotal situations all game long.
“Our defense has played very well all year long,” Scenters said. “It bailed us out of a lot of bad situations.”
Russell (6-5) wanted pass interference called.
“There was a little collision down there. Of course, us coaches, we wanted an interference call,” McGlone said.
Asked if he thought it was interference, McGlone replied, “I don’t know. There was contact, that’s all I know.”
Russell’s defense, led by Dylan Campbell and Gage Stevens, rose to the occasion as well. The Red Devils relented just 51 yards on 14 total plays in the second half.
“Defensively, we played about as well as we have all year,” McGlone said. “Offensively, we did a pretty decent job ...
“... except on the goal line,” he added after a pause.
After the tough running of Noah Williams supplied the Golden Lions (7-4) with their first two scores of the game, giving Garrard County a 12-0 lead, Russell responded with a 59-yard TD pass from Evans to Googie Hayes.
“As impressive as the catches were by (Kennedy), the throw to (Hayes) in the first half was unbelievable,” Scenters said in complimenting Evans, a senior. “We had him double-covered and he laid it right in his bread basket.”
Hayes used a nice block to spring loose for the score.
Russell was on its way to more points in the final minute of the first half before Evans fumbled the ball near the sideline at the 7-yard line. It appeared he may have been down before the ball popped loose, but it was a close call.
“We don’t have replay,” McGlone said. “You can throw (a red flag), but it won’t do you any good.”
The third quarter became a punt party, with four consecutive punts followed by a Russell turnover on downs. After another Garrard County punt, the Golden Lions forced another turnover on downs.
The fourth quarter became a fumble fiesta. The two teams exchanged fumbles in the last six minutes.
A sack by Campbell helped give Russell one last chance, as Garrard County turned it over on downs.
Noah Williams and Jalen McPherson tallied 59 and 58 rushing yards, respectively, to lead Garrard County. Billy Abney threw for 51 yards.
Russell was led by Evans, who passed for 154 yards on 6-of-14 attempts.
Hayes exited the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent leg injury.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2664.