For The News Courier
RUSSELLVILLE – The Russellville Golden Tigers used a stingy defensive effort to make a huge step toward clinching a playoff berth in a 23-7 win over Athens on Friday, Oct. 12, at Russellville Stadium.
The Golden Tiger defense held Athens to 163 yards on 60 plays and forced five turnovers en route to the victory.
With the win, Russellville is one win away from its 13th consecutive playoff appearance.
“Our defense played an outstanding game,” said Russellville head coach Michael Jackson. “To have a good football team, you have to have leaders who step up on both sides of the ball, and tonight, when our offense was struggling, the defense kept getting the ball back and we finally got the offense going.”
The Golden Tigers amassed 260 yards, with 217 coming on the ground.
The game got off to a slow start, as the two teams exchanged punts on the opening four possessions.
On the Golden Eagles’ second punt, C.J. Posey fumbled, but Kaleb Daniel picked up the fumble and returned it 65 yards for the apparent touchdown. A block-in-the-back penalty nullified the play, however, and after a seven-yard punt, Athens took over at the Russellville 29.
A pass from quarterback William Mathews to Johnnie Anderson moved the ball to the Golden Tiger 13, where running back Shaun Johnson plowed ahead for a touchdown. The extra-point from Adam Harvey was good, and the Golden Eagles took a 7-0 lead.
Russellville took over, but were forced to punt after a three-and-out. On Athens’ next drive, a quarterback keeper from Mathews was inadvertently blown dead at the 36, nullifying what would have been a gain to the one-yard line. A personal foul penalty moved the ball deep into Golden Tiger territory, but Harvey missed a 36-yard field-goal attempt.
The Golden Tigers finally mounted an offensive drive, as quarterback Landon Smothers gained the Golden Tigers’ first first down of the night on a quarterback keeper then found Chris Owens for a 27-yard gain to the 33-yard line. Posey busted loose on a 22-yard run before Tyler Boyd ended the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run. Adam Brown’s extra-point tied the score at 7.
The Golden Eagle offense got moving again, driving to the Golden Tiger 38, but a third down play was fumbled, and the Golden Tigers fell on it. Russellville returned the favor two plays later, but Athens was unable to capitalize, as freshman cornerback Austin Kitterman picked off a deflected pass and returned it to the 46. The score remained tied 7-7 at intermission.
The two teams exchanged punts to open the second half, but after Athens was forced to punt on its second drive, the Golden Tigers went back to work. Smothers kept the drive alive with a 17-yard scramble on 3rd-and-6, and two plays later, Posey used a punishing 16-yard carry to make the score 13-7.
After the kickoff, Athens started at its on 18. Two plays later, however, a Mathews pass found the waiting hands of Russellville linebacker Chase Fretwell, who returned the ball to the 24.
A holding penalty moved the ball to the 31, and despite a 21-yard run from Boyd, the drive stalled. Brown came in and nailed a 20-yard field goal to push the Golden Tigers’ lead to 16-7.
Athens’ next drive saw them drive to midfield, but on third-and-10, Jalen Scott hit Mathews, causing a fumble, which was recovered by Golden Tiger Tra Bonds. The Golden Tigers offense then moved the ball to the 22, but a fourth-and-five pass from Posey to Bud Coleman was just short of the line, giving Athens the ball back.
The Golden Tiger defense, however, started harassing Mathews, and several of his passes were batted down at the line by Russellville defenders. A fourth-down heave fell incomplete, and two plays later, Boyd iced the game with a 49-yard touchdown run. The extra-point made the final 23-7.
Jackson made note of the Athens defensive effort in the first half, as well as the adjustments made in the second half.
“I had been telling our guys all week that Athens had a quick defense, and they have some really good players on that side of the ball. At the same time, I knew if we ever could get their guys blocked on the outside, it was a matter of time before we broke one.”
For the game, Boyd rushed for 112 yards on 17 carries—with 91 of those yards coming in the second half—and two touchdowns. Smothers had 57 yards on the ground on 10 carries, as well as 39 yards on 4-of-7 passing.
Russellville (5-2, 3-2 in region play) will clinch a playoff berth with a win over Lawrence County (2-5, 0-5 in region) or with a Hartselle (5-2, 4-1 in region) win over East Limestone (4-3, 3-2 in region play).
“We’ve got Lawrence County next week, then Hartselle the next. Our job next week is to go down to Lawrence County, take care of business, and make ourselves better,” said Jackson.
Athens (1-6, 1-4 in region play) will host Cullman next Friday night.