BY ZACK KLEMME
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
RUSSELL T.J. Maynard decided Russell’s starting defense needed a moment to gather itself on Friday night.
Red Devils senior defensive back Jacob Thompson took it to heart.
Unhappy that Lewis County mounted a drive from its own 21-yard line to the Red Devils’ 11, taking more than nine minutes off the clock, Maynard subbed in an entirely new defense.
Russell’s backups forced the Lions into a fourth-and-12, for which the starting unit came back into the game.
“It was fourth down, and we all got together and said, ‘We gotta make this stop,’” Thompson said. “‘We’re shutting ’em out.’” Thompson then snared a deflected pass and took it 90 yards to the house. He added another pick-six later, as well as a scoring run on a reverse, as Russell indeed pitched a 42-0 shutout at Henry R. Evans Stadium.
The first nine plays of the game featured four turnovers, beginning when Russell failed to field Lewis County’s opening onside kick. The exchange of possessions later found the Lions taking over at the Russell 9.
Lewis County lost 3 yards on the next four plays, though, starting a theme: Russell’s defense held when it had to, even as its offense couldn’t get on track and the Lions owned time of possession.
“There was not a whole lot of continuity early on to the game,” Maynard said. “We gotta do a better job of valuing the football, but when we did turn it over, our defense bailed us out.”
Thompson set up Russell’s first points with a 61-yard punt return to the Lewis County 20, running over the Lions’ punter in the process. Four plays later, quarterback Charlie Jachimczuk ran for a 5-yard TD.
Lewis County assembled its nine-minute-plus, 18-play drive in response, converting two third downs and two fourth downs in the process. Quarterback Zach Lehn spotted tight end Parker Stone open in the middle for the necessary yardage on third-and-9 to get the Lions to Russell’s 11, spurring Russell’s mass substitution.
Lewis County tried the same play on fourth-and-12 from the 13, but the ball was deflected and Thompson was gone.
“I saw it,” Thompson said. “Just brought it in, followed my blocks. Down the sideline I went.”
It was a disheartening end to what was otherwise a statement drive for the Lions.
“It takes the air out of you,” Lewis County coach Josh Hughes said, “especially considering it was a play that worked a couple times before, and it was open all night.”
That was the second of three times the Lions got to the Russell 21 or closer and did not score.
The Red Devils, meanwhile, cashed in once more in the first half — Nathan Conley ran for an 18-yard score with 19 seconds left until halftime — and then finally gained separation in the third quarter.
Russell’s Zaccheaus Snyder recovered a squib kick to open the second half, and Conley ran for a 26-yard touchdown just 35 seconds into the third quarter.
Thompson closed out the scoring, returning another interception 22 yards for a TD with 5:19 to go in the third quarter and running for a 5-yarder on a reverse at the 39-second mark.
Russell improved to 5-2 overall and 4-0 in Class3A, District 5 play. Coupled with Bath County’s 32-0 win at Fleming County, it sets up a winner-take-all showdown for the district title next Friday in Owingsville.
“The last couple weeks have been a little bit tough, making sure I could keep them motivated,” Maynard said, “but there’s no more motivation problems for next week, because the district championship is on the line.”
Lewis County (2-6, 1-3 district) hosts West Carter (2-2 district) next Friday, with a playoff berth in its sights.
“You’ve gotta spend every ounce of your time (looking forward), because that one game’s all that matters at this point. Nothing else does,” Hughes said. “That’s what I told them afterwards, your season comes down to one game. Simple math, you win, you’re in, and the whole goal’s to play in November.”
The Lions have played the same schedule this year as last, and though they have the same number of wins at this point as they did last year, they’ve improved on the margin of last season in seven of their eight games to this point.
“I think we were much more competitive in games against teams that we haven’t been in a while,” Hughes said. “Unfortunately, in football, you only get to play 10 (games). It’s not like baseball, where you get to play them again later.
“Hopefully the kids see that, because you don’t want things to end on a sour note with them. They’re still kids.”
Conley ran six times for 70 yards for Russell. Zach Robersion hauled in seven passes for 59 yards to lead Lewis County.