BY ROCKY STANLEY
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
FLATWOODSRussell’s “Bad Boys” defense and diverse offense took turns pummeling Pike County Central in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs.
Disappointed at being idle for the first round, the Red Devils came out in overdrive Friday night and overwhelmedthe Hawks 56-14 at Henry R. Evans Stadium.
“I wish we could have played last week,” said Russell’s Maxx Blackburn, who excelled Friday on both sides of the ball as well as special teams. “All the seniors like to put up as many W’s as we can.”
Blackburn ran for two touchdowns, played his typically active role at linebacker and returned punts 30 and 37 yards to set up the Red Devils’ second and third touchdowns.
“I love punt returns and all special teams,” Blackburn said. “I got a good seal on the edge on a couple of them.”
Meanwhile, Nick Conley ran for three scores while becoming Russell’s first player with four consecutive 1,000yard rushing seasons. Conley also played a huge role in the passing game with three catches for 103 yards on a night when junior quarterback Austin Smith broke the school’s season passing record.
Russell (10-1) reached the double-digit win total for the second time in T.J. Maynard’s three years as head coach.
Playing their final home game of the season, the Red Devils scored four touchdowns in the first 61/2 minutes and never looked back.
“We talked all week about going out the right way,” Maynard said. “Now we can go down and take on Big Red.”
Defending state champion Belfry looms next for Russell after walloping Fleming County 61-0.
“It’s a major test,” Smith said. “We have not won against them since I can remember. It’s going to test our strength and heart. We’re going to give it our all.”
Smith’s first year as starting quarterback is now one for the record book. He completed 7 of 10 passes for 162 yards to reach 1,550 this season. Tyler Wyant held the previous school mark of 1,517.
“It makes me feel good,” Smith said. “I didn’t really pay any attention to it. Give the offensive line and receivers credit. It’s their record as well.”
Russell honored its 2006 state runner-up team prior to kickoff and then came out hitting on all cylinders.
The defense stonewalled Pike County Central for minus-6 yards in the opening quarter, including sacks by Seth Deborde and Jacob Pierce. On the opposite side, the Hawks had no answers for a revved-up Red Devil attack.
On the third play from scrimmage, Conley turned a short reception into a 53-yarder. He went into the end zone from 3 yards out on the next snap.
Blackburn’s first lengthy punt return set the Red Devils up at Pike County Central’s 35. Smith found Conley open from the slot and the Hawks finally brought him down at the 1, leading to Blackburn’s first TD.
Another nifty Blackburn return again set the table. Smith rolled and hit Landon Brewer for 18 yards and the mobile quarterback later scrambled 8 yards, paving the way for Conley’s 1-yard TD.
Pike County Central then opted to begin punting the ball out of bounds. After a 14- yarder, Blackburn burst up the middle 22 yards to the end zone to make it 28-0 with 3:33 still remaining in the opening quarter.
“It’s all the offensive line,” Blackburn said. “That’s where it starts. If we get a push up front, we have talented backs and can make things happen.”
The margin ballooned to 42 in the second quarter on Conley’s 4-yard scoring run and Cole Coburn’s 13-yard TD carry. In between, Pike County Central reached Russell’s 18 but Blackburn made a big hit for a 3-yard loss and Ryan Stump sacked Seth Conn on fourth down.
“I was a little worried,” Maynard said. “I liked their quarterback. The kid had caused people problems with his running and throwing. Our front four was able to get good pressure and the linebackers took away the quick game and the flat.”
Red Devils linebacker Evan Ison intercepted Conn for a 32-yard TD on the Hawks’ first play of the second half for a 49-0 lead. Russell kicker Sam Ewing went 8-for-8 on extra points, the last coming after backup quarterback Grant Wilburn connected with Brewer on a 27yard scoring strike.
Brewer had four receptions for 60 yards to move into second place on Russell’s all-time list behind Eric Day.
Coming in, Pike County Central had surrendered an average of 44.7 points in its six losses. The Hawks, who got two second-half TDs from Stone Harris, closed the season at 5-7.
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