FINAL: CENTRAL 34, RUSSELL COUNTY 15
Wow. I can honestly say I didn't see that coming.
Alright, fine, you see a 19-point victory for Central over Russell County. What's so special about that? I'll tell you.
It was the way Russell County played. As Central coach Woodrow Lowe said after the game to his huddled team, the Warriors were an inspired football team.
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Sure, they lost by 19, but with under a minute to go in the third quarter, it was a five-point game. It was a game in doubt until quarterback Ethan Baber hit Quandarius Weaver for a 58-yard touchdown pass with 8:38 remaining in the game.
The Warriors defense was stout. It brought a gang of players to most tackles and really limited what Central was able to do with some of its athletes, including Traveon Samuel. Of course, Samuel was able to bust out in other ways. He had a long punt return to set up Central deep inside Russell County territory. He shifted his way for a long reception to set the Red Devils up on a scoring drive. He finally broke a few tackles on a 42-yard run. Overall, though, Russell County gets an A for what it was able to do against Central's offense for most of the night.
The difference was Kenneth Thomas.
Thomas, arguably the third on the list in a stable of running options for the Red Devils, put the team on his back, galloping for 149 yards and four--count them, four--touchdown runs.
Without him, if Russell County caught a break here or there, the Warriors may have pulled off one of the more improbable upsets of the season.
As it was, Central gets the win as it heads into a region contest with Carver-Montgomery next week. I have a feeling Lowe will be pushing his kids hard over the next week.
For Russell County, McCoy and his Warriors have to be feeling great about the rest of the nine games on their schedule. This was a team that came within one win of the playoffs last year. If it can maintain this level of play on both sides, it has a chance at the postseason, despite its low number of players.
A look at the pre-game keys
Before the game, I circled three things I was keeping an eye on for this game: How Russell County handled fatigue, the two running games, special teams and the Warriors back seven.
For the first, the Warriors really responded pretty well. They were fatigued down the stretch, and that was probably one of the main differences in the game. With that said, they dressed half the number of players Central did and really did a great job hanging with them.
Second, the running games. As mentioned before, those were key. Thomas was a beast for the Red Devils, and Russell County's Joshua Johnson rushed for 143 yards and a score. The perception of a Russell County may be that it can't have athletes the caliber of a Central, but that's not true at all. Johnson is a player, and he proved it Thursday night.
Special teams was an adventure on both sides. There were penalties that resulted in first downs, one that gave Russell County a reprieve en route to a score, blocked kicks, a missed extra point, et cetera. It didn't cost either team the game, I don't think, but this will definitely be an area of focus for both going forward.
Lastly, the Warriors back seven. I can't give enough credit to the game they played. We knew beforehand that Russell County had some really fine players on defense, and it didn't disappoint. A great effort in the loss for the Warriors.
“Let me tell you, those guys were inspired. You guys know, a mishap here or there could have what? It could have cost us the game. The only difference is that they didn’t have enough troops. That’s it.”
--Woodrow Lowe, Central head coach
Anything else you'd like to know about the game? Tweet at me @leprepsports or jump on www.facebook.com/ledgerenquirersports to discuss this game or any other over the weekend.
HALFTIME: CENTRAL 14, RUSSELL COUNTY 9
Raise your hand if this was the score you predicted heading into this one. Anyone?
It isn't that we didn't think Russell County was a much improved team. I said as much on the pre-game blog--that defense is nothing to sneeze at. There are some very good players.
Against the mighty Central, though, I had my doubts.
No matter what happens in the second half, Russell County has impressed me. A lot.
There have been a lot of gang tackles. It has limited some of Central's main weapons, though Traveon Samuel has been a difference-maker on a couple of plays.
Even the Warriors offense has taken advantage of Central at times. It managed to a take a brief 9-7 lead in the second quarter before Samuel and running back Kenneth Thomas struck on the ensuing Central drive.
Overall, Russell County is outgaining Central 134-115, including 106 yards on the ground. Most of those came on a 60-yard run by Joshua Johnson, which put the Warriors at the 1-foot line. It scored after a couple of penalties.
Here are some other stats to look at:
Total: 134 yards; Rush: 106 yards; Pass: 28 yards
Individual leaders: Joshua Johnson--8 carries for 81 yards; Byron Johnson--7 of 12 passing for 28 yards and 1 touchdown; Calvyn Johnson--2 receptions for 22 yards; Caleb Smith--1 reception for 10 yards and a touchdown; Cameron Brooks--1 interception
Total: 115 yards; Rush: 89 yards; Pass: 26 yards
Individual leaders: Traveon Samuel--2 receptions for 26 yards, 2 carries for 44 yards, also had a 48-yard punt return; Kenneth Thomas--4 carries for 39 yards and two touchdowns
The game is far from over, and Russell County has given itself a chance. It's still going to be very difficult in the second half for the simple fact that the Warriors dress about half the players Central does.
We'll see, though. It's already been an impressive performance. Second half kicks off in eight minutes.
6:30 p.m.--Welcome to the 2013 football season, folks.
When Central and Russell County kick off in about 30 minutes, it will begin the first full week of games. This is a great rivalry to get things started with, too.
The first thing to address with this game is the obvious: The Red Devils are heavily favored to win this game, which would make it six in a row. Russell County hasn't picked up a victory in this game since a 26-20 overtime victory in 2007.
Just looking at the two teams during warmups, it's clear why one team has the advantage. While Central is only one class higher than the Class 5A Warriors, it vastly outnumbers them in available players. Russell County coach Demond McCoy said County would dress somewhere around 40 players for this game, and the eye test says that's about right. Central more than doubles the Warriors' roster size, and that's a notable advantage.
That brings me to a couple keys for the game, not the least of which is...
Russell County's conditioning and ability to hold tough despite a large number of players going both ways.
If the Warriors want to hold tough in this game and improve on last season's shutout loss, it must be able to fight through the fatigue that is sure to come early in the second half. They are facing a team with a lot of size and athleticism that will run them ragged. It's important Russell County can take the punishment. If it does, that will be something to hang its hat on no matter the result of the game.
The running games
While McCoy said his team's ability to pass the ball would play a big part in its offensive success, the running game may be even more vital. The longer the Warriors keep Central off the field, the less they have to face the talented skill players the Red Devils can throw out. Conversely, Central wants to get a lot of production from its running back corps, led by Ryan Humphrey and Traveon Samuel. Humphrey can bust a long one, as he showed on a 75-yard gallop to the end zone in a scrimmage against Carver last week, and we've all seen Samuel's capabilities when he gets the ball in his hands.
This may not factor much into the result of the game, but this is an area both coaches told me they are keeping an eye on. McCoy said his team didn't get any live kicking in its scrimmage against Spencer, so he's interested in how they do tonight. Likewise, Central coach Woodrow Lowe said he'd like to see a lot of improvement out of his special teams this week.
Keep an eye on the Russell County back seven
Linebacker Chavel Smith and safety Caleb Smith were forces for the Warriors last season, and that unit played well in a scrimmage victory against Spencer last week, limiting the talented Greenwave offense to seven points. This one is for real and Central has more horses to run with, but it will be interesting to see how those defenders hold up for four quarters.
Alright, that'll do it for now. Check back in during the game for occasional updates and afterwards for a post-game blog. As always, follow me on Twitter @leprepsports for live updates throughout the game.