Varsity Football Returns to RHS
One of the largest crowds at Temerian Field in recent history was treated to a hard-fought season opener Friday night, as the resurgent Rector Cougars battled the Palestine-Wheatley Patriots on the gridiron. While the hundreds of fans in attendance were not treated to a victory on the scoreboard, the Patriots came away with a 34-20 victory; it's difficult to find any negatives in the Rector program, which is returning to varsity play after a four year absence. New head coach David Hendrix and his players received a wealth of support from the Rector crowd, with the football program giving back in terms of hard work on the field and a sense of excitement surrounding Cougar football.
The Patriots struck first in the contest, scoring on the opening drive of the game. Junior running back Devante Jordan capped off the seven play drive with a one-yard touchdown carry with 9:15 remaining in the first frame. Palestine-Wheatley tried to run in the conversion, but was halted by the Rector defense, leaving the visitors in front, 6-0.
Rector went three-and-out on its first two possessions, but was able to contain the speedy Patriots for the remainder of the quarter.
The Cougars struck gold in the second frame, as quarterback Lawson Ford connected with a speeding Danny Hager for a 31-yard touchdown along the home sideline. Hager caught the ball, turned to avoid a tackle, and kept his stride for around four yards to pass by the pylons. The table had been set earlier thanks to the effort of the Rector line and backfield, especially senior running back Austin Scott, who picked up 28 yards on two carries during the scoring drive. The Cougars' PAT was moved back twice by a pair of penalties, and was blocked by the Patriots, leaving the teams tied at 6-6 with 7:19 to play in the first half.
Rector went for an onside kick, and looked to have caused the fumble thanks to Hager's quickness to tip and recover the ball, however the play was overturned by the officials. The Patriots took possession at the Cougars' 49-yard-line, where Jordan broke loose on just one play to run in the touchdown with 7:07 left. Jonathan Estes ran in the conversion for the guests, leaving Rector trailing, 14-6.
The final three minutes of the second quarter saw the teams trade haymakers, as both upped the score before intermission.
The Cougars capped off a nine play, 65-yard drive with a weaving, 28-yard touchdown run by Austin Scott with 2:53 left in the half. Scott juked four defenders on his way to the end zone, leaving would-be tacklers dizzy and on the ground as he scored the second Cougar touchdown of the season. RHS went to the air for the conversion, but the pass from Ford to Chase Jackson was knocked down. Rector closed to within two points, 14-12.
The Patriots covered the onside attempt for good position, starting at Rector 40-yard-line. Jordan went to work, bringing the ball into the red zone on two carries before finishing the series with an 11-yard touchdown jolt with 1:12 left in the period. Jordan's two-point run was successful, as Pal-Wheatlet moved ahead, 22-12.
The Cougars took over at their own 43-yard-line. Garrett Buck tore up the field with a 55-yard run, taking advantage of key blocks at the line and good, old-fashioned hard-nosed running did the rest as the junior set the table for his two-yard touchdown stomp on the following play. Buck also ran in the conversion, moving the Cougars within two points, 22-20, with 48 seconds left in the half.
The third quarter was a tough time for the Cougars. Fumbles on Rector's first two possessions of the second half gave the ball to the Patriots, with both turnovers resulting in Palestine-Wheatley touchdowns. The guests scored on a 17-yard pass with 5:42 remaining in the period and added another score with 1:25 showing, this time on a 10-yard carry by Antwan Dawson. Both conversion attempts were denied, but the damage had been done.
Both teams threatened in the fourth quarter, but were unable to add to the score.
Buck led the Cougar rushing attack with 126 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Austin Scott gained 88 yards on eight carries with a touchdown. Sophomore Tommy Stokes picked up nine yards on five carries. Hager gained seven yards on a carry.
Ford completed one of three passes for 31 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Hager had one reception for 31 yards and a score.
Defensively, every Cougar on the field played a role in containing the Patriots' speed. Lonnie Yancey, Chance Scott, Matt Henson and Huston Highfill helped set the tone for the Rector defenders, as each came up with multiple tackles in an all-out effort.
"We played hard," Hendrix said of his team's effort following the game. "It was a tough game, and we hadn't been in one in a while and it showed in some of the mistakes we made. There were things that hurt us, but this group of guys played their tails off tonight against a good team. A lot of nights, an effort like that will end up in a win. We've got to continue to get better."
The Cougars are set to visit 3A Cedar Ridge at 7 p.m. Friday at Newark.