RUSSELL Joe Bryan didn’t anticipate needing three most valuable player trophies for the Rail Cities Bowl.
But Malakai Anderson and Nathan Conley each more than earned that nod on Saturday night, so Russell’s athletic director will be ordering more hardware this week.
Conley rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns and Anderson picked up 62 yards and three TDs as the Red Devils whitewashed Raceland, 41-0, at Henry R. Evans Stadium.
“Nathan’s my guy, man,” Anderson said, holding the series’ team traveling trophy moments after Russell dropped the largest margin of victory on the Rams in the history of the rivalry. “We compete every day in practice. We push each other. It’s awesome to share. I wouldn’t want to share it with anyone else.”
Standing nearby grasping the Red Devils’ MVP trophy, Conley returned the sentiment.
“We’ve been through it for three years now, and it’s great,” Conley said. “We’ve built a connection.”
Raceland quarterback Jake Heighton shared a connection with Rams speedsters Gunnur Lewis and Ethan Cox, too, early on Saturday. Heighton slung passes for 40 yards to Lewis and 12 to Cox to pick up first downs on Raceland’s first drive.
But the junior signal-caller was injured moments later and didn’t return. Rams coach Michael Salmons said the injury was located in the vicinity of his right (throwing) shoulder, though he wasn’t sure “whether it’s a fracture or a sprain or a muscle spasm” until Heighton undergoes an X-ray.
The Rams offense bogged down without Heighton. Raceland picked up 59 yards on its lone drive with its starting QB and only 61 after that.
“To summarize the last two weeks, we’ve had trouble running the football and stopping the run,” Salmons said. “So I think the physicality at the line of scrimmage the last two weeks on both sides of the ball has been a glaring, glaring issue for us. That’s something we’re gonna have to work really hard to get cleared up, to get some running game back, to get some of that identity back, and also on defense, to be able to stop the run.”
Russell picked up 263 yards on the ground on 53 carries. Ethan Sharp contributed 45 yards to the backfield milieu.
“What’s great about it, they’re unselfish guys,” Russell coach T.J. Maynard said of the Red Devils’ backs. “If they’re not getting the ball, they’re gonna block for the other guy, and they’re excited for each other when they score.
“Going into the year, we knew that the strength of our team was our running backs and our linebackers, and I think those guys are kinda leading us right now.”
Russell (2-0) took the lead less than 90 seconds into the game when Kyle Smith pounced on a Raceland muff on the opening kickoff and Anderson capitalized from 7 yards out.
Conley followed suit with 4:24 to go in the first quarter, and Anderson capped a 14-play, 73-yard drive that ate 6:35 off the clock with a 1-yard plunge with 3 seconds to go until halftime.
Anderson and Conley each found paydirt once more in the second half, and Josh Griffith snared a deflection of Charlie Jachimczuk’s pass and trotted 33 yards for a touchdown.
Jachimczuk also found Isaac Jenkins for a 42-yard play in the third quarter, thus connecting on both of his passes.
Anderson and Conley both might have expected to be called upon to score the game-winning touchdown late instead of a score to set the running clock in motion. Instead, Conley did exactly that with his 1-yard plunge with 5:38 to go.
“We expected coming into a dogfight, and it’s not like it wasn’t a dogfight,” Conley said. “We had to play every snap, and we did, but things just started going our way. We played hard and it just worked out for us.”
Concurred Maynard: “Obviously, when you’re playing a good program and a great team like Raceland, you never dream that the score’s gonna be like this. But I think our strength was maybe not their strength. We were able to control the line of scrimmage and run the football, and capitalize, and our defense played really, really well.”
Maynard credited Russell’s offensive line and tight ends for clearing the roads, specifically junior Ian Bell. He stepped in at the last minute for Blake Stump, who tore his ACL in pregame before the first home game of his senior season.
The Red Devils are 2-0 for the first time in three years. They’d started 0-3 the last two seasons and had designs of avoiding that. Russell fulfilled them by beating Mason County and Raceland by a combined 90-13 the first two weeks of the season.
“The last couple years we’ve been very green, very young, and we went through some battles and we didn’t win those,” Maynard said. “Now, we have new experience we can rely on, look back on, and they understood last year, starting 0-3, how that felt. This senior class in particular wanted to come out and set the tone early in the year, and obviously, they’ve done that, beating a great team like Raceland.”
Lewis collected Rams (1-1) game MVP honors, catching three passes for 51 yards.
“We talk about all the time about it being a process,” Salmons said. “We’re trying to keep pounding, be better tomorrow than we were today, and I don’t know if that’s the case for today from yesterday, but we’re trying to get to where we need to be in November. Tonight was a little bit of a setback, but at the end of the day, after tonight, whether we won or lost, our goals were still in front of us.”
(606) 326-2658 |
RACELAND 0 0 0 0 — 0
RUSSELL 14 7 7 13 — 41
Ru — Malakai Anderson 7 run (Gabe Floyd kick), 10:36
Ru — Nathan Conley 3 run (Floyd kick), 4:24
Ru — Anderson 1 run (Floyd kick), :03
Ru — Anderson 9 run (Floyd kick), 2:11
Ru — Josh Griffith 33 pass from Charlie Jachimczuk (Floyd kick), 9:14
Ru — Conley 1 run (run fails), 5:38
First Downs 5 13
Rushes-Yards 20-38 53-263
Comp-Att-Int 7-14-2 2-2-0
Passing Yards 82 75
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0-0
Punts-Avg. 2-46.0 3-10.0
Penalties-Yards 2-20 2-9
Raceland rushing: Hughes 9-23, Lewis 1-13, Mills 3-7, Cox 2-3, Rowsey 1-2, Heighton 3-(-4), Meade 1-(-6).
Russell rushing: Conley 19-139, Anderson 16-62, Sharp 7-45, Jachimczuk 8-16, Hartman 2-2, Oborne 1-(-1).
Raceland passing: Heighton 3 of 3 for 61 yards, Hughes 4 of 11 for 21 yards, 2 interceptions.
Russell passing: Jachimczuk 2 of 2 for 75 yards.
Raceland receiving: Lewis 3-51, Cox 3-31, Mills 1-0.
Russell receiving: Jenkins 1-42, Griffith 1-33.