In Sept. 10 IssueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal Sports Editor
On a night when the program celebrated 40 years of football and dedicated the football field to former Laker Head Coach Ron Finley, Russell County (1-1) came up short against visiting Somerset (3-0), 40-20, as the Briar Jumpers doubled up the Lakers in the season's home opener.
"We ran into a buzz saw and didn't respond well at all in the first half," said Head Coach Bill Sharp. "We couldn't get any offensive snaps and couldn't get a rhythm going."
Russell County, who played without star receiver Taylor Hutchison who injured a shoulder in practice, failed to get anything going offensively until it was too late and the rival Briar Jumpers took the lead and ran with it at the newly named Finley Field at Laker Stadium.
Early in the first quarter there was a bright spot for Russell County as senior cornerback Jordan Best intercepted an Erik Manning pass and returned it 71 yards for a score, a blow that many Laker faithful felt was needed in taking the wind out of Somerset and put the Lakers up 6-0.
"They gave us a chance to be in the ballgame and then we just let them whip us up front," Sharp said.
Somerset amassed more than 200 total yards and 12 first downs in the first quarter alone which led to three rushing touchdowns, two by Jumper Thomas Boyle and another by Otie Manning.
In the second quarter, after another Somerset touchdown, the Jumpers led 28-6 and looked to be running away with the game when Laker junior quarterback Martin Cross connected with junior tailback Jeron Hammond on a 50-yard screen pass for a touchdown that, after a two-point conversion, cut the score to 28-14 at the midway point.
In the third quarter the Briar Jumpers held the Lakers on their opening drive and forced a punt, two plays later Somerset would score again when Manning found another receiver in the end zone, sending the Briar Jumper lead to 20 at 34-14.
Russell County would try and battle back yet again when Cross led the Laker offense down the field and connected with senior Austin Hill on a 16-yard touchdown pass, cutting the lead back to 14.
"There were times we battled in the second half," Sharp said. "We made a few plays and had a few defensive stops that we didn't do in the first half but we weren't ready to play."
The Lakers would not score again and Somerset tacked on another touchdown, pushing the lead back to 20 at 40-20.
"It was a bad week of practice," Sharp said. "We didn't do some things we wanted to do, we weren't focused and I think that showed."
"I'm not taking away anything from Somerset, they're a good football team but you cannot come out and be flat and play the way we played and expect anything other than the outcome you see on the scoreboard," he said.
The Briar Jumpers outgained the Lakers in total offense, 409 yards to 177, and held the Lakers to only five first downs while managing 20 themselves.
"There are so many times when we didn't line up in the right spots and that's frustrating," Sharp said. "It was not a very good executed ball game."
Laker quarterback Martin Cross went 6-12 passing on the night for 111 yards and two touchdowns and seven rushing yards while junior fullback Nathan Irvin ran five times for 11 yards, junior tailback Jeron Hammond rushed five times for eight yards and freshman tailback Nick Britt managed four yards on six carries.
Hammond caught three passes for 50 yards and a score on the night while Austin Hill caught one pass for 16 yards and a score.
Britt had 33 yards receiving while Best had one reception for 12 yards and an interception that was returned for a score.
Despite the outcome, Sharp said he was pleased with the crowd's involvement on the historic night.
"The atmosphere was fantastic," he said. "You could not ask for anything better on a Friday night for a high school football game."
The Lakers head to Pulaski County this Friday night when they take on the 1-2 Maroons, who are without star Chris Muse who was lost for the season with a torn ACL, at 7 p.m.