Benjamin Russell football vs Stanhope Elmore

Jake Arthur/ Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.

Benjamin Russell's Corri Milliner stiff arms a Stanhope Elmore defender during the football game between Benjamin Russell and Stanhope Elmore on Friday, Sept. 4, 2021.  Stanhope Elmore won the game 42-20.

It’s been a tumultuous first four weeks for Benjamin Russell.

The Wildcats were within one score in the fourth quarter against both Huffman and Central of Clay County in the first two games of the season, on the verge of pulling an upset in both games only to fall just short in the end each time.

Those two nail-biters have been followed with a 42-20 loss against Stanhope and a 32-0 defeat at Helena. Benjamin Russell entered the season with a young squad, replacing all but three starters on defense and a majority on offense from a team that went 2-7 in 2020.

First-year Benjamin Russell head coach Aubrey Blackwell and staff are still on the hunt for their first win, and earning it on the road against region rival Wetumpka could certainly prove impactful.

“I just want it really bad for our kids, they’ve been working really hard and giving us outstanding effort,” Blackwell said. “We love how they’re growing and getting better.”

Blackwell added that a win against the Indians puts the Wildcats in a good position to make the state football playoffs down the road.

Wetumpka’s season hasn’t been all sunshine and candy thus far, either.

The Indians boast a thrilling last-second 18-14 win over Tallassee, but losses against Prattville, Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa and Helena have left their record at 1-3.

They did manage to play Helena somewhat closer than Benjamin Russell did, losing by a 20-10 margin.

Blackwell said normally there’s a lot coaches can decipher about a team based on a common opponent, but the circumstances surrounding Wetumpka and Helena’s game make it more difficult to do so this week.

“Helena had several starters out when they played Wetumpka,” Blackwell said. “They had several quarantined with COVID. So it was hard to get a good read on Helena going into that game because they had so many kids out.”

Among those missing for the Huskies were their starting running back, two linebackers, a wide receiver and two linemen.

Prattville is still the only team that’s beaten Wetumpka by more than two scores, however, and the Lions pulled away late in that game after an exhausted Indians defense was left with a few short fields to defend following several turnovers from its offensive counterpart.

Beyond that game, Wetumpka’s defense hasn’t allowed more than 20 points this year, despite its own offense never scoring more than 18.

Blackwell noted he’s preparing in particular for the interior of the Indians’ defense, which features three strong, experienced linemen and star junior middle linebacker Justin Crumbaugh. 

Blackwell said he expects Crumbaugh to play on Saturdays in a couple years. 

“Their box is extremely, extremely tough to deal with,” Blackwell said. “We’re gonna have to pass protect really well, we’re gonna have to do some things well all night to be able to score off of them.”

Benjamin Russell’s main source of production on offense thus far has come through the air, with sophomore quarterback Gabe Benton already at 938 yards and eight touchdowns passing in four games. Corri Milliner and La’Bronski McKinney have been the primary recipients of those throws, with 418 and 313 receiving yards, respectively. 

Combined they’ve caught all but one of Benton’s eight touchdowns. It’s a near-certainty they’ll be looking to stretch Wetumpka’s stout defense with downfield passes Friday.

Wetumpka’s own attack is headlined by dual-threat quarterback Nathan Rogers and seasoned running back Stone Minnifield. 

“We’re gonna have to make sure we keep Rogers bottled up. He’s extremely dynamic. When he gets outside the pocket and gets in space he’s dangerous,” Blackwell said. “We’re gonna have to stay disciplined and know when is the time to get upfield, when is it not.”

Benjamin Russell and Wetumpka kick off at 7 p.m. at the City of Wetumpka Sportsplex.

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