ASHLAND Class 3A’s ninth-leading rusher had 30 yards on the ground at halftime on Friday night.
Keontae Pittman tripled that total by the time he was finished running on the first play from scrimmage of the third quarter.
Pittman’s 64-yard touchdown dash up the middle started an Ashland onslaught in the second half as the Tomcats closed the game with 34 unanswered points to top the Red Devils, 41-7, at Putnam Stadium.
“I think we came out with more momentum in the second half,” Pittman said. “O-line, we fixed a lot at halftime, talking about what we can do, what’s gonna hit.”
Pittman piled up 153 rushing yards and three TDs and Vinnie Palladino chipped in 79 yards and a score. Ashland earned 279 of its 354 rushing yards after intermission, as well as three TDs.
The Tomcats clinched at least a tie for the top seed in the district by beating Russell for the 13th time in their last 14 meetings.
Ashland coach Tony Love said it took some time for a still-gelling offensive line to get a handle on the Red Devils’ blitzing. Pittman’s identification of creases and ability to turn them into running lanes helped break the logjam.
“We ran the same play (earlier), the power play off-tackle, and he bounced it outside the first time,” Love said of Pittman, “and I told him, the defensive end is down inside tight, so just hug it tight. And the second time, he takes off and scores a touchdown.”
Ashland (4-0, 2-0 Class 3A, District 7) dipped into its bag of tricks in the second quarter when JT Garrett found Hunter Gillum for the go-ahead 32-yard touchdown on a double pass. And Palladino recovered a third-quarter blocked punt in the end zone.
Palladino, a junior, comically noted he “stole” the ball from teammate Zane Christian to get credit for the TD. Jack Latherow blocked the punt.
Palladino scored via more traditional means on a 25-yard scoring run in the final minute.
He is the younger brother of D’Angelo Palladino, who was Ohio’s Division V Southeast District Offensive Player of the Year at Ironton in 2014.
“I learned everything from him,” Vinnie Palladino said. “That’s my guy.”
Love said the younger Palladino is more power-based than his faster brother was — which is what Ashland needs him to be.
“He’s starting to really develop as a running back, and more so as a power running back, which we don’t have right now,” Love said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys that are athletic and quick and fast, but sometimes you just need to be able to put the hammer down and pick up the one, two, three hard yards.”
Russell (5-1, 1-1 district) was without a few starters, most notably back/linebacker Nathan Conley, who injured his ankle the week before.
“If he was at all gimpy, we were holding him because we want him to get healthy for a run in the playoffs and the next time we hopefully play these guys,” Russell coach T.J. Maynard said of a potential playoff rematch.
The Red Devils remained tied with Ashland after Chase Snedegar’s first-quarter 3-yard scoring run, but things began to unravel late in the first half.
Maynard listed them, one after another: the Tomcats’ trick-play TD; a missed Red Devils field goal on the final play of the first half; Pittman’s scoring sprint to start the third quarter; a bad long snap that led to Latherow’s block and Palladino’s fumble-recovery score.
“It kinda snowballed from there,” Maynard said. “Obviously not having some of those guys hurt, but where it hurt the most was, when things started going bad for us, guys are looking for somebody to make that play. ... Do they make a difference in this game? No, but at least they have somebody to look to.”
Russell's Mason Lykins intercepted three Ashland passes. It wasn't enough against Class 3A's No. 1 rushing defense, which limited the Red Devils to 49 yards on the ground — a total partially deflated by the 21-yard loss on the blocked punt — and 148 total offensive yards.
“They whipped us tonight, and it’s up to us to get some things figured out,” Maynard said, “and hopefully we get a chance at them again in five weeks.”
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RUSSELL 7 0 0 0 — 7
ASHLAND 7 7 14 13 — 41
A — Keontae Pittman 1 run (SJ Lycans kick), 9:15
R — Chase Snedegar 3 run (Nathan Totten kick), 3:36
A — Hunter Gillum 32 pass from JT Garrett (Lycans kick), 3:25
A — Pittman 64 run (Lycans kick), 11:40
A — Vinnie Palladino blocked punt recovery in end zone (Lycans kick), 6:22
A — Pittman 29 run (kick fails), 7:07
A — Palladino 25 run (Lycans kick), :42
First Downs 9 21
Rushes-Yards 31-49 45-354
Comp-Att-Int 11-28-2 5-10-3
Passing Yards 99 57
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 2-1
Punts-Avg. 6-30.8 0
Penalties-Yards 5-25 7-50
Russell rushing: Snedegar 12-29, Jachimczuk 9-26, E. Oborne 7-9, Crews 1-6, Team 2-(-21).
Ashland rushing: Pittman 19-153, Palladino 5-79, Tackett 6-41, Gillum 5-37, Garrett 5-31, Mullins 3-14, Team 2-(-1).
Russell passing: Jachimczuk 11 of 28 for 99 yards, 2 interceptions.
Ashland passing: Garrett 1 of 1 for 32 yards; Mullins 4 of 9 for 25 yards, 3 interceptions.
Russell receiving: Martin 2-29, E. Oborne 2-26, Patrick 2-22, Lykins 4-18, Snedegar 1-4.
Ashland receiving: Gillum 1-32, Garrett 3-16, Alley 1-9.