By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
There is a saying at Russell Christian Academy, Warrior opponents don't have names, they are just 'next.' Friday night, in the first home playoff game in Russell Christian's school history, Sharkey-Issaquena was 'next,' falling to the Warriors 53-14.
“Like always, it feels great to win,” Russell Christian head coach Nate Ballard said. “We knew Sharkey was going to be tough, and we expected a physical game. The boys executed today, and they really shut down the screens Sharkey likes to run.”
Russell Christian quarterback Jacob Howse put the Warriors on the board first when he found Ben McGraw for a 19-yard touchdown pass less than a minute into the game.
Sharkey came right back on its next possession as Cooper Anthony caught a 68-yard touchdown for the Confederates. After a successful two-point conversion Sharkey led a surprised Russell 8-7 with 7:26 left in the first quarter.
Russell Christian running back John Epps wouldn't let the Warriors stay down too long. On the first play of the ensuing drives, Epps bounced to the outside and ran 56 yards to the house to put the Warriors up 14-8.
Russell Christian would pour it on after that. Running back Arik Washington would find the end zone from 10-yards out in the second quarter to make the score 21-8 with 7:37 left in the half. After forcing the Confederates to punt on the next drive, Epps would strike again. On first and 10 from the Confederate 38-yard line Howse connected with Epps, who hauled in the football over his shoulder and beat his defender to put the Warriors up 27-8.
“We worked all week on giving them a five-yard cushion, and I gave them that and just went up and got the ball,” Epps said. “I was just hoping I caught it, and when I did, I was just trying to secure it.”
Epps led the Warriors on both offense and defense, as he rushed for 99 yards to go along with the 38-yard reception, while also tallying four tackles, a interception and a recovered fumble on defense.
After Epps recovered a fumble at the Confederate three-yard line, Washington would add his second touchdown of the day to put Russell Christian up 34-8.
Washington had a big night for the Warriors as well, taking the ball 11 times for 96 yards and three touchdowns on the night.
As good as Russell Christian was on offense, the Warriors were equally as menacing on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Jesse Barksdale, who Russell players call Chicken Little, was anything but little on the night. The hard-hitting linebacker tallied seven tackles, including one for a loss, as he applied pressure and made things difficult on the Confederate passing game.
“I felt energized from the beginning,”Barksdale said. “It's a real big night. Every night from hear on out, we are going to try to make history. There is nothing like it, it's an indescribable feeling.”