No. 7 Mighty Lakers claim regular season district title

The Laker defense denied the Patriots of ACS on all three of their point-after attempts, none more important than the 2-point conversion they stopped with no time left on the clock. File photo by Jessica Gossage

Story by Drew Bergman
Photo by Jessica Gossage

With 6:35 left in the third quarter the Russell County Mighty Lakers were down 12-7 against the Patriots of Allen County-Scottsville.
     The Lakers had opened the scoring with a 41-yard run by Dylan Bland on the third play of a drive that had started at midfield. Each of the early Russell County drives had started with good field position but had stalled out from pressure by the Patriots’ defense, and this big play score allowed the team a measure of confidence going forward after the early disappointments.
     “We have some better football left to play,” Coach Ryan Richardson said. “Our play up front has been a work in progress from the beginning.”
     Allen County-Scottsville answered right back, going 70 yards in eight plays with some help from Russell County penalties, to bring the game to within a point following the failed PAT.
     The Lakers’ next drive saw them move the ball down to the ACS 37-yard line before a bad snap and a missed block drove them back to the 48. Gavin Gossage’s third-and-21 pass was intercepted but given the down and distance had more the effect of an unfortunate punt than a drive-killing pick.
     Each team struggled offensively until the end of the first half when Russell County was able to get as close as the six-yard line with just under five seconds left where a missed read on a fake field goal ensured the halftime score would remain 7-6 Lakers.
     The third quarter opened with one personal foul ending a Russell County drive and a second one helping propel a Patriots’ Drive.
     Dylan Bland had gone right for three yards, setting up what would have been a third and three at the ACS 44-yard line, but a 15-yard penalty against the Lakers pushed them back to second and 19.
     Four plays later an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty helped the Patriots to the Russell 23. From there, ACS was able to cover the remaining yards in four plays to go up 12-7.
     This was the third time the Lakers had trailed this season, and just like the other times the Lakers scored to respond. What was different about Friday night is how they did it. In their previous games, Russell tore their way down the field at breakneck speed.
     Last Friday night they were deliberate and methodical. The first responding drive began, as the other two drives following a kickoff went (and seemingly as every kickoff since Collin Darnell and Dylan Bland returned kicks for touchdowns against Warren Central went), with a squib to the upbacks. This time Mason Hinkle took the ball at the 25 and careened through the kick coverage team to the 47.
     Gavin Gossage kept the ball twice, each time for three yards and a clod of mud, setting up a bruising 11-yard run from Darnell to convert the first down. Darnell picked up the next first down picking up 13 yards on second and 14 and one yard on third and one. Dylan Bland took his turn next, getting the ball down to the 5 in four runs.
     Darnell found himself stuffed for a six-yard loss on third and goal, setting up fourth down at the eleven. That was when Gavin Gossage found C.J. Vonfumetti over the defense for the touchdown pass “C.J. was such a great force for us in the end, making play after play,” Coach Richardson said. “As a coach, you love to see that kind of response, to see the heart and toughness that you have.” Yarley Madrano’s second PAT made the score 14-12 with 1:12 remaining following a drive that had eaten five and a half minutes of game clock.
     “Coming back like that, I don’t know if that’s something that happens a year ago or even two or three years ago,” Coach Richardson said. “It’s just this group of kids, they keep their blinders on, they know the job at hand, and they get after it. What really impressed me on those drives was the third and fourth down plays that we picked up and a lot of that came down to the desire to win.”
     The Laker defense held ACS to a three-and-out on their next drive, setting up the offense with the ball at their own 34 barely half a minute into the fourth quarter.
     The Patriots would not touch the ball again until 3:17 remained in the game. No penalties marred the next Laker drive as the team went 66 yards in 16 plays. Gavin Gossage went three-for-three on that drive, hitting Vonfumetti twice for 30 yards and Darnell once for another one. The drive was capped off by an 8-yard touchdown from Dylan Bland, who found just enough of a crease to coast in.
     The Patriots next drive ended in a turnover on downs and Russell County took over at their own 45-yard line with 1:52 remaining. They ran Collin Darnell and Dylan Bland into the middle of the defense to no effect, bleeding the clock down to 15.8 seconds. With Kelby Grider out, Darnell was effectively the team’s punter, but with 15.8 seconds left, the Lakers made the decision to try to run as much time off the clock as possible.
     Darnell managed to shave 13 seconds off the clock before the Patriots’ punt coverage team caught him at the 26.
     On the next play, Allen County-Scottsville was able to get under the Lakers’ shell coverage and break two tackles to bring the game to within 20-18. The Patriots, having burned two of their timeouts midway through the third quarter, and their final one on the last Laker drive, had no chance to talk the play over, only call it in. The play action bootleg left may have left enough space for Trace McIntyre to run in the two, but he threw the ball incomplete instead and the game ended with the walk-off defensive stand.
     “On that touchdown, we were there to make the tackle, we just didn’t make the play,” Coach Richardson said. “We had two kids that slipped on that corner of the field, it’s probably the wettest corner of the field. We got what we wanted, they caught it underneath, we just have to get to the tackle.”
     Gavin Gossage completed 7 of 13 passes for 64 yards, the touchdown and interception. Dylan Bland led the Lakers in rushing with 112 yards and 2 scores on 24 carries. Collin Darnell carried the ball 21 times for 72 yards. C.J. Vonfumetti was the top receiver with 41 yards and a touchdown on three catches.
     Larin Coffey led the Lakers in tackles with 10 for the night. Gossage chipped in 8 stops including one for a loss. Mason Hinkle had six. DeVonte Grayson and Brandon Leach each recovered a fumble for the Lakers and Gage Hick and Trevor Rankins each chipped in with an interception.
     By defeating Allen County-Scottsville 20-18, the Russell County High School Mighty Laker football team has won their first regular season district championship since 2013 and secured homefield advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
     Should they win those games, the Lakers currently rank fifth overall in the RPI index and would be in line to host more playoff games deeper into November. On the subject of rankings, this week’s AP poll places the Lakers seventh overall in 4A football.
     “As a coaching staff, we don’t think we’ve peaked yet,” Coach Richardson said. “If we can peak at the right time, that could be something.”
     As to the rest of the regular season, the team’s October 30 game against LaRue County has been cancelled and is as of print time, still yet to be officially replaced, but their November 6 game against Adair has. The Mighty Lakers will travel the final week of the season to play the 3A No. 9 Taylor County Cardinals at Taylor’s newly renovated stadium on the campus of Taylor County Elementary School.

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