Warriors win first game, beat Sidney Lanier 34-31

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Drive to victory eats away clock

By Mark Clark

Dwight Jones knew his team was tired. The heat was wearing down his squad. But, during a heat timeout, he told his offense, if it wanted to win, it needed to drive 73 yards and leave as little time on the clock as possible. Otherwise, he warned, the other team would drive right back and take the victory away.

The Russell County Warriors trailed Sidney Lanier’s Poets 31-26 with 6:03 left in the fourth quarter and the ball was sitting on their own 27-yard-line. The team did as he instructed and secured its first victory of the 2018 season 34-31, ending a six-game losing streak.

“I knew we didn’t have much left in us. It was hot and that was wearing us down. I knew our best chance was to keep the ball away from them and score. I am so proud of how the kids responded. It sure has made it easier to go back to work this week,” Jones said.

He also added, “I had a kid come up to me after the game and say he could not wait to get back to school on Monday. Kids don’t tell you that much, but he wanted to continue to celebrate this win with his classmates. Unfortunately, we are on Fall Break and don’t go back to school until Wednesday (yesterday).

On the game-winning drive, the Warriors moved deliberately down the field. At midfield, facing a fourth-down situation, Russell County managed to get a first down by inches to keep the drive alive. When the Warriors reached the 8-yard-line, the play called was for a pass, but when a hole opened up between Jaquon Pritchett and the end zone he took the ball in for the winning touchdown.

Still, the Warriors led by just a single point, 32-31, and Jones knew the Poets had a kicker capable of making a long field goal should Sidney Lanier return the ensuing kickoff or make a pass that got it in range with time left. Jones called on his offense to do one more thing – make a two-point conversion. Jalen Mitchell ran in for the two points to give the Warriors a 34-31 lead.

“I just felt like they might be able to get into field goal range and make a long one at the end. I told the kids to go for two and they made it. I felt better knowing they could only tie us with a field goal,” Jones said.

Sidney Lanier’s defense was called for an unsportsmanlike penalty on the two-point conversion, allowing Russell County to kickoff into the Poets’ end zone. The Poets had 12 seconds to use from their own 20-yard-line. But, they could not ruin the Russell County Homecoming with a comeback. The game ended with a pair of incomplete passes.

“It was just a great night for us. We played well and did not have the turnovers that have hurt us all season. We had a good crowd. We had great support from everyone – from our superintendent, our administrative staff, our teachers, our students and our fans. We had about 500 people line up for a Warriors Walk. It’s tough to get 500 people to do that for a team that was 0-6,” Jones said.

Jones did not know what to expect from his team entering the game.

“I was concerned about how the kids would play. They played hard. They didn’t make turnovers and all our drives were long ones. The biggest concern I had was that they would quit because of the way the season had gone. That was my worry, but they didn’t quit. They continued to play hard the entire game.”

Jones might have expected something was different about the night when his team scored on its first possession of the game. It was the first time all season the Warriors had managed to do that. D’Andre Hartwell scored that first touchdown on an 8-yard run. That touchdown was followed by three from Pint Lokey and, of course, the winning one from Pritchett.

“We needed a win real bad. Any hope of making the playoffs at this point means we have to win our region games that are left and see who else beats who,” Jones said.

Russell County will play its final home game tomorrow night in Seale at Mitchell Stadium at the Corbett Sports Complex against Eufaula High, another region foe. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET.