LOUISA Catching Lawrence County quarterback Alex Strickland was not a problem for Russell Thursday night.
Stopping him was another conversation.
Strickland erased an early pick-six with a standout performance through the air and on the ground to lead the Bulldogs to a 39-28 win over the Red Devils. Strickland ran for 144 yards on 10 carries and threw for 106 more, adding a touchdown in each category in the win.
“He’s just a special player and he’s as hard-nosed of a kid as I’ve ever coached,” Lawrence County coach Alan Short said. “What is really special about Alex is his attitude and effort that he brings every single day. Just a very special kid that comes from a good pedigree and just a blessing to have on our team.”
Strickland had only 41 rushing yards and 47 passing yards at the break, but the elusive leader made his presence known out of the locker room to start the second half. On the first play of the third stanza, Strickland ripped off a 36-yard run that was initially thought to be a touchdown only to be overturned after an official thought he stepped out at the Russell 6. Lawrence County needed only one play thereafter, as Dylan Ferguson scored the second of his three rushing touchdowns for a 25-14 Bulldogs lead.
“He runs our team,” Short said of Strickland. “We’ve got several good leaders, but there’s no doubt that everybody feeds off Alex.”
Lawrence County tallied 437 total yards of offense with 315 coming in the second half after the Bulldogs connected with home run plays on a pair of scoring drives in the frame. Ferguson’s third scoring scamper of the night came on a 12-yard run, one play after Strickland hit Blue Fletcher for a 24-yard pass.
Ferguson finished with 111 yards on 17 carries.
With the final seconds ticking away in the third, Strickland started up the middle, squirted free from two would-be tacklers, angled for the sideline and sprinted into the end zone to put the Bulldogs back in front by 18 at 39-21.
“Our tackling is terrible right now,” Russell coach T.J. Maynard said. “We’ve got too many guys reaching and lunging instead of stepping on toes and delivering and throwing our hips and putting shoulder pads on somebody. (Strickland) is elusive and if you try to do that, he’s too good for that and he made us pay for it.”
Russell controlled the time of possession battle for the entire game and was nearly doubling that of Lawrence County until the Bulldogs closed the game with a drive that consumed the final 5:42. However, three interceptions and a lost fumble squashed several key scoring opportunities for the Devils.
“It seemed like every time we took a step forward, we took three steps backwards,” Maynard said. “Right now, offensively, we aren’t very good. We had a lot of dropped balls tonight and a lot of missed blocks, but right now the problem is just the lack of physicality we have on both sides of the football.”
Russell (2-2) tried to make things interesting late after Bradley Rose hit Mason Lykins for a 29-yard score with 10:01 to play that pulled the Devils to within 11. On the ensuing drive, Russell forced a fumble that it recovered at the Lawrence County 27-yard line with 9:04 remaining. Driving to the Bulldogs 8, Rose looked for a quick route into the end zone, but the ball was tipped and sailed over his receiver into the Bulldogs’ Talon Pollock’s hands that essentially sealed the win.
“Right there, you score and you are right back in it,” Maynard said. “You are down three points and you are right back in the game. Credit to Lawrence County, they’ve got a good ball club. Their kids played hard and with a lot of emotion and it seemed like every time we got a break, they would step up and answer and would get all the momentum back.”
Lawrence County (3-0) allowed 231 second-half yards but surrendered only one third-down conversion in four tries while snatching away the ball that could have put the Devils within a field goal of the tie.
“Opportunistic defense is what we are,” Short said. “We want to be solid and keep the ball in front of us and not get beat over the top. Did a really good job of tackling in the first half.”
Short added: “We know that we have something special here. We knew that from last year coming into this year that we had a really good team coming back. We played some really good teams but nothing with the history and tradition that Russell has. So, I think people may start to take notice.”
Rose went 14 of 28 for 171 yards through the air with a pair of touchdowns and interceptions. Andre Richardson-Crews paced the Russell rushing attack with 112 yards and a score on 20 totes.
Russell’s staff wore special shirts to honor the late Tony Kershner, grandfather of D’Marques Kershner, who died suddenly last week at the Wheelersburg game.
“Our pep club wanted to do something to show the family we were supporting them,” Maynard said. “We appreciate them giving us the shirts to wear tonight.”
Maynard had hopes of doing something special to honor the passing of Kershner, but the plan did not come to fruition.
“The big thing we wanted was to get the victory to take the family the game ball,” Maynard said while choking back emotions. “Taking the game ball when you are losers just isn’t the same. I’m really disappointed that we couldn’t do that for the family. Hopefully as a coaching staff and a team, we learn from this and we get better and get ready to strap it up next week.”
RUSSELL 7 7 7 7 — 28
LAWRENCE CO. 0 19 20 0 — 39
R—Eligh Abdon 2 interception return (Nathan Totten kick), :49
LC—Dylan Ferguson 3 run (Logan Southers kick), 8:48
LC—Alex Strickland 52 interception return (Southers kick), 7:11
LC—Kaden Gillispie 47 pass from Strickland (run fails), 2:38
R—Doug Oborne 15 pass from Bradley Rose (Totten kick), 1:25
LC—Ferguson 6 run (run fails), 11:21
LC—Ferguson 12 run (Southers kick), 5:31
R—Andre Richardson-Crews 1 run (Totten kick), 3:03
LC—Strickland 34 run (Southers kick), :29
R—Mason Lykins 29 pass from Rose (Totten kick), 10:01
First Downs 23 21
Rushes-Yards 36-187 42-331
Comp-Att-Int 14-29-3 3-5-1
Passing Yards 171 106
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 2-2
Punts-Avg. 1-27.0 1-36.0
Penalties-Yards 5-25 5-35
Russell rushing: Crews 20-112, Kershner 1-24, Hartman 7-18, Rose 5-12, Rock 3-21.
Lawrence County rushing: Strickland 10-144, Fletcher 8-46, Ferguson 17-111, Gillispie 2-20, Hall 4-10, Team 1-0.
Russell passing: Rose 14 of 28 for 171 yards, 2 interceptions; Pack 0 of 1 for 0 yards, 1 interception.
Lawrence County passing: Strickland 3 of 5 for 106 yards, 1 interception.
Russell receiving: Oborne 3-55, Kershner 3-30, Lykins 3-44, Crews 2-10, Patrick 3-32.
Lawrence County receiving: Gillispie 2-82, Fletcher 1-24.