Coach Mark Rose and the Russell County Warriors knew what they had waiting for them Friday night against Park Crossing. It was a huge task waiting for them as the Thunderbirds were the biggest and most talented team they’d face all season. It would actually be a surprise if there is a bigger team in 6A football. That didn’t stop the Warriors from fighting, as they competed with the Thunderbirds the entire game. While Park Crossing had the size and athletic advantage at almost every position, Russell County was within arms reach the entire game. The 44-33 score may not have ended up in the Warriors’ favor, but Rose is proud of how hard his team fought.
“Our kids played really hard against clearly the most talented team in our region. They beat Dothan, our region champions, 42-27. We made a few too many mistakes to win the game, but I was proud of their efforts against an extremely talented football team.”
Park Crossing put their talent on display quick, using seven plays to score after taking the opening kickoff. The 10-yard run gave the Thunderbirds an early 7-0 lead. The Russell County offense came out ready to play ball with the big boys from Montgomery. Led by long runs from DJ Epps and Azayvier Lokey, the Warriors got on the board with 6:32 to go in the first quarter. The two-yard touchdown run from Lokey sent a message that the boys from Russell County were not going to back down in this game.
On Park Crossing’s second drive of the game, the Russell County defense also showed that they weren’t going to back down either. On third down with 13 yards to go, they got into the backfield for a tackle for loss and forced a punt. The Warriors then had a punt of their own before giving up a 79-yard touchdown run. The Warrior defense stopped the two-point conversion, keeping the score within a touchdown and extra point at 13-6. Russell County’s ensuing possession ended in a muffed punt, giving the Thunderbirds great field position. They were able to advance the ball to the red zone, but like they have many games this year, the Russell County defense stood strong. Park Crossing was able to kick a field goal for a 16-6 lead in the second quarter.
The most controversial call of the game came on Russell County’s next punt, as the official ruled that the punter’s knee hit the ground while catching the snap. This gave Park Crossing another short field, with only 26 yards to go for a touchdown. They took advantage of the opportunity four plays later with a touchdown, stretching the lead to 24-6 after a successful two point conversion. It would have been easy to give up here being down by 18 to such a talented team, but the Warriors answered with a touchdown of their own before the half. The 17-yard pass from Epps to Dasheen Jackson.
Park Crossing tried to put up another score before halftime and was able to drive the ball to the 1-yard line. Once again, the Russell County defense stood strong. They were able to hold the Thunderbirds twice from the one yard line. The last goal line stand happened as time expired in the second quarter, keeping the Warriors within striking distance with a 24-13 halftime score.
The Thunderbirds were able to get the scoring started in the second half and take a 30-13 lead, but once again Russell County was able to answer. This score was via the Epps brothers. A 37-yard pass from DJ Epps to Kaleb Epps and a Park Crossing pass interference call against the duo set up a 13 yard run for DJ Epps. The touchdown and extra point dropped the Park Crossing lead to 30-20 with 8:55 to go in the third quarter. The two teams traded punts on the next two possessions. The turning point of the game happened when the Warriors couldn’t take advantage of two fumbled punts. While Logan Stewart and Derrion Sanders were able to recover the ball and put the offense back on the field, they just couldn’t get anything going against the stout Park Crossing defense.
In the fourth quarter an eight-play drive and a punt return for a touchdown gave the Thunderbirds a 44-20 lead with 6:52 to go in the game. The Warriors still wouldn’t back down with the game seemingly out of reach. A 40-yard touchdown run by Jaylen Sanks made the score 44-26 with 4:24 left in the game. The Warriors were then able to recover an onside kick and drive the ball down the field for another score. The 23-yard touchdown run from DJ Epps and extra point from Carlos Sampedro brought the Warriors within 11 points at 44-33 with 1:16 left in the game. Unfortunately, Russell County was not able to recover the next onside kick and Park Crossing was able to just kneel the ball to end the game.
DJ Epps led the offense with 18 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown. He also had seven completions on 14 attempts for 120 yards and a touchdown. Dasheen Jackson had two receptions for 40 yards. Sanks had the 40-yard touchdown run. Lokey had a 50-yard reception and a two-yard touchdown run. Jackson led the Warrior defense with 12 tackles, followed by Lokey with six tackles and Amerion Lawson with nine tackles. Omarion Rogers had four tackles, a tackle for loss, and a sack. Stewart had five tackles and a sack.
The Warriors get some much needed rest tomorrow night, while preparing for Senior Night next Friday against Booker T. Washington. That contest will be Nov. 1 at 8 p.m., ET. Rose is looking forward to honoring his seniors and said they have done a tremendous job in helping to start off building this program.