BY ZACK KLEMME
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
RUSSELL The first time West Carter got the ball Friday, the Comets assembled a 14-play drive taking nearly 8 1/2 minutes that got to Russell’s 3-yard line but came up empty.
The Comets’ best chance at grabbing momentum in search of their first win over the Red Devils thus came up empty, too.
Russell took the lead on the first play of the second quarter and stayed ahead from then on en route to a 49-14 victory over West Carter in the Class 3A, District 5 opener at Henry R. Evans Stadium.
Eleven different Red Devils backs carried the ball. Three of them got into the end zone, including two scoring runs apiece by Nathan Conley and Landen Duvall.
Malakai Anderson’s 7-yard touchdown run and the first of Gabe Floyd’s seven extra points without a miss gave Russell the lead for good five seconds into the second quarter. Red Devils coach T.J. Maynard credited Anderson’s physicality with setting an early tone.
“We thought we could come out and try to be physical with them and run between the tackles,” Maynard said. “I thought we did a really good job of that. ... We’ve got four or five guys back there that can tote the mail, and we try to rotate them and keep them fresh and try to take advantage of what each of them do well.”
Russell out-rushed West Carter 334 yards to 32 as the Red Devils defense hemmed in West Carter’s speedy Christian Rivers and Leetavious Cline on the ground. Cline did catch eight passes for 119 yards.
“They’ve got a lot of kids that can run and make plays,” Maynard said of the Comets. “I thought our guys did a really good job tackling in space.”
Russell quarterbacks Charlie Jachimczuk and Grant Wilburn also each threw scoring strikes to Reed Galloway.
The Red Devils’ defensive stand set up Anderson’s TD, and both teams’ coaches pointed to it as a turning point.
West Carter forced Russell into a three-and-out on the first drive of the game, then moved from its 40 to the Russell 3.
But the Comets committed three illegal procedure penalties in a row, which bumped them back to the Red Devils’ 18. Russell’s John Giles sacked Rivers on third down, and the Red Devils chased down Cline on fourth-and-goal from the 20 for a turnover on downs.
“If they score right there, they would jump on you, obviously,” Maynard said. “It would give (West Carter) a lot of momentum, a lot of confidence. For us to stop them there, then go down and get the lead 7-0, it was really big.”
Comets coach Daniel Barker agreed.
“We’re trying to control the game,” Barker recalled.“We get all the way down there inside the 4, we don’t score, we get some penalties, and then Russell comes down and scores on us. We kinda always fight that with Russell. In pregame, I said, ‘Can we overcome their first punch?’ We really didn’t. It took us a while to settle into the game.
“Second half, I thought we started out playing better, but then (Russell) made some nice plays, had a pick or two and put it out of reach.”
West Carter got down 35-7 on Conley’s second scoring run of the night, a 2-yard burst midway through the third frame, but made a run at a rally: Rivers rared back and threw down the right sideline, and Cline ran under it for a 43-yard touchdown.
West Carter’s Trey Bond then recovered Garrett Wolfe’s onside kick, and two Russell unsportsmanlike conduct penalties helped the Comets get to the Red Devils 25. But Rivers lost five yards on first down, and Conley intercepted him on second and- 15.
Russell only needed one play to spring Duvall loose for a 74-yard touchdown run, which essentially closed the door on a Comet comeback.
The long run gave Duvall 121 rushing yards on just three carries.
“It’s awesome, just to have a wide variety of different types of runners and a great line to open holes up,” he said. “Our line, they’re a little green, some of them, but we definitely have improved a lot, and we listen to our coach and are getting better, and you really can see us develop.”
Conley finished with 78 rushing yards, Anderson added 49 and Ethan Sharp had 46. Galloway caught three passes for 105 yards.
Russell hung 49 points on the scoreboard for the second straight week after being outscored 98-28 in its first three games, all losses.
“A couple of those games, we made some mistakes that cost us,” Maynard said. “I thought the Ironton game, we played extremely hard. I keep stressing to them, if we’ll play that hard, we’ll have an opportunity. We were disappointed how we played against Ashland (in a 41-0 loss), thought we kinda laid down, but since that time, our kids have responded well. Hats off to our seniors, being leaders.”
Russell improves to 26-0 all-time against the Comets and 2-3 on the season. More importantly to the Red Devils, they’re 1-0 in district play.
“Obviously any district win is a big one, but that first one’s the most important because that’s the first one that you play,” Maynard said.
The Comets (2-3, 0-1 district) now start a game back in their pursuit of a strong district finish.
“We just didn’t execute well, and Russell capitalized on that,” Barker said. “It’s a learning experience for our guys. But they’ll be fine, they’re tough kids.”
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