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Lizi Arbogast / The Outlook Benjamin Russell's Brett Pitts (22) dives into the end zone against Wetumpka's Avery Thomas. The touchdown was called back due to a blindside block against the Wildcats.

Less than three minutes into Thursday night’s must-win game against Wetumpka, Benjamin Russell found itself trailing by two touchdowns. The Wildcats showed some fight and had the lead trimmed to just one score early in the fourth quarter but a late interception from Wetumpka’s Tyquan Rawls sealed the game as Benjamin Russell was officially eliminated from playoff contention with a 33-20 loss.

“These teams that get off to a fast start, you’ve got to stop them early,” BRHS coach Kevin Smith said. “They’re a team that, traditionally, they take the ball. They win the toss; they don’t defer. When you’ve got speed and athletes that they’ve got year in and year out, that’s what you’ve got.”

Wetumpka (4-4, 2-2 Class 6A Region 3) needed just five offensive plays to score two touchdowns. Rawls threw a pair of touchdown passes on the team’s first two possessions and finished with 185 yards and three touchdowns on just seven completions.

“We knew we weren’t going to be stubborn and just run the ball inside against seven defenders in the box,” Wetumpka coach Tim Perry said. “We noticed on film they play zero coverage so we feel confident with (Rawls) and the receivers we have to take some shots. That’s what we worked on all week.”

After receiving the opening kickoff, Rawls took the offense 69 yards in just four plays, capped off with an 11-yard touchdown catch by Jaleel Johnson. On Benjamin Russell’s ensuing drive, Rawls got his first of two interceptions near midfield before finding Malik Davis wide open down the visiting sideline for a touchdown pass on the next play.

“We have the offensive skill guys that can go and get it,” Perry said. “And Tyquan has a great arm so he can get the ball to them. With his ability to throw the ball deep, we can stretch defenses. I’m just proud how we executed our game plan.”

Rawls accounted for all five touchdowns including one receiving touchdown on a reverse pass from Brandon Bowman. He finished with 316 yards of total offense with 185 of them coming through the air on just seven completions.

Smith said the Wildcats’ style of defense forced Wetumpka’s offense to make great plays all night but Rawls and his receivers were up to the task. 

“We’re a man-to-man team; that’s who we are,” Smith said. “You can debate whatever you want to, but I believe in what we do. But the quarterback has to make some perfect throws and we saw several really good throws tonight and some great catches and that’s what I think man to man forces you to do.”

Benjamin Russell (3-5, 0-4) responded well to Wetumpka’s big plays, scoring 10 unanswered points with a 2-yard touchdown run by Hezekiah Hunter and a 34-yard field goal by Campbell Woods. 

After Wetumpka extended its lead to 27-10 at the break, the Wildcats made some changes on offense and turned to Hunter and Brett Pitts to lead the offense.

The two running backs combined for 191 yards on the ground. Hunter added a 46-yard touchdown run to open the scoring in the third quarter but it was the last touchdown the Wildcats scored.

“Coming out in the bone, that was something I felt like we changed the personnel around and we put Brett at halfback because he can run it really well,” Smith said. “But overall, I was really proud of the way they fought.”

Wetumpka wrapped up the game with a 10-play touchdown drive which included three third-down conversions. Rawls capped his big night on offense with an 11-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal.

“We have some guys on offense that have quick-strike capabilities,” Perry said. “But we need to be able to put together long drives and finish them. That’s good for our overall maturity as an offense.”

Wetumpka stopped its first two-game losing streak since 2015 and clinched a spot in the postseason for the seventh consecutive year.

“Everybody was doubting us,” Rawls said. “We had to prove a point that we are the same Wetumpka football. This is a good win but we still have stuff to work on. We just have to come back and practice hard.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writers at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.