Loss drops Russell out of playoff picture
By DAVID MITCHELL
VALLEY, Ala. -- In a game it needed to win to have a shot at making the playoffs, Russell County was reminded that football really is a game of inches.
A handful of big plays that could easily have gone in the Warriors favor were nonetheless enough to put host Valley over the top in a 41-18 win on Friday.
With the loss, Russell County (2-5, 2-4) has dropped out of the playoff picture in Region 2-5A.
"Football is a game of inches," Warriors coach Demond McCoy said. "It's clear after tonight. There were a couple of plays that went their way that completely turned this game around."
The two key plays McCoy was referring to were both touchdowns.
One, a 33-yard touchdown pass from Joshua Meigs to Frankie Hutchinson that gave Valley (4-4, 4-2) a 28-12 lead in the fourth quarter, was a perfectly thrown pass that, nonetheless, was nearly batted down by the Russell County defender. The ball sailed about an inch over the outstretched fingertips into the hands of Hutchinson, who turned and jogged the final 8 yards into the end zone.
The other play came less than two minutes later, when Valley wide receiver Houston Barnes took a direct snap, fumbled the ball, picked it back up and bounced around the Russell County defenders who had tried to pounce on the fumble.
Barnes hit the corner and ran 34 yards to pay dirt, giving the Rams an insurmountable 35-12 lead.
"On the pass, our defender just missed it, and the run was a fumble that bounced right back to him," McCoy said. "Sometimes the ball bounces the right way, and sometimes it doesn't."
Russell County appeared to put itself into a position early on to win the game.
After falling behind less than four minutes into the game on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Meigs to Barnes, the Warriors' Cameron Brooks returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown. The extra point was blocked, so they still trailed 7-6, but it gave the team some much-needed early momentum.
Two drives later, Valley went ahead 14-6 on a 3-yard touchdown run by Deion Johnson, but, again, Russell County battled back just a few minutes later. It went 49 yards in 59 seconds, culminating in a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Byron Johnson, to make it a 14-12 game.
It had other opportunities late in the first half after falling behind 21-12, but turned the ball over on three consecutive offensive plays (a fumble and two interceptions). Still, it entered the final quarter behind by just nine points with a fighting chance at stealing the win.
Meigs and the Valley offense took over late, however, to ensure its big region victory.
Meigs finished 15 of 21 passing for 185 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for 34 yards. Two of Meigs' touchdown passes went to Hutchinson, who finished with four receptions for 68 yards.
Russell County added a late touchdown run of 52 yards from Kino Franklin to cut the Valley lead to 41-18. Franklin finished with three carries for 56 yards. Johnson carried nine times for 43 yards and a touchdown.
"They never quit," McCoy said. "They kept their heads up and fought until the last second went off the clock."
He added that, despite not reaching the goal of making the playoffs, he is happy with the progress his team has made.
"We've got a lot of talent," he said. "We need consistency and discipline. If you put those two together, you'll win some games. We're young, and we're still learning, but we have two games left and we're still going to go to work."
Friday at Valley
Russell County 6 6 0 6--18
Valley 14 7 0 20--41
V--Houston Barnes 19 pass from Joshua Meigs (Austin Wood kick), 8:52
RC--Cameron Brooks 94 kickoff return (kick failed), 8:38
V--Deion Johnson 3 run (Wood kick), 1:57
RC--Byron Johnson 1 run (pass failed), 8:52
V--Frankie Hutchinson 25 pass from Meigs (Wood kick), 3:47
V--Hutchinson 33 pass from Meigs (Wood kick), 10:58
V--Barnes 34 run (Wood kick), 7:31
V--D. Johnson 52 run (kick failed), 3:48
RC--Kino Franklin 52 run (kick failed), 1:16
Records: Russell County, 2-5, 2-4; Valley 4-4, 4-2 Next: Russell County, Friday vs. B.T. Washington; Valley, Oct. 26 at Marbury