BY ROCKY STANLEY
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
CANNONSBURG Russell gave its football fans a glimpse of the future Friday night.
Freshmen running backs Nathan Conley and Ethan Sharp flashed their promise, while junior Landen Duvall exploded onto the scene with 122 yards rushing in a 40-7 pasting of Boyd County.
“We’re happy with a win,” said coach T.J. Maynard, whose Red Devils got their first taste of victory in a matchup of 0-3 teams. “Obviously, it means a lot to get that monkey off your back and sing the (school) fight song.”
Key graduation losses and injuries have opened the door for one of Russell’s most heralded freshman classes.
“We knew going into the year it would be kind of running back by committee after losing Nick (Conley) and Maxx (Blackburn),” Maynard said.
In addition, senior Nathan Brinkman is trying to play through an ailing shoulder and talented sophomore Malakai Anderson is sidelined by a knee injury.
“Ethan and Nathan are two talented young men that have been starting on defense,” Maynard said. “They are the next two up.”
Conley has been eager for his chance. His brother finished as the school’s No. 2 all-time leading rusher.
Little brother bolted 101 yards on only three carries against Boyd County. He started Russell’s scoring with a 10-yarder and later sprinted 74 yards to the Lions’ one.
Brinkman, a senior starter in the backfield, got into the end zone from 10 yards out on the Red Devils’ second possession. That was his last of six carries — producing 46 yards.
Russell led 14-0 at halftime and broke the game open by scoring touchdowns on its first four possessions of the second half.
Quarterback Austin Church started it with an 8-yard keeper. Grant Bates scored on a 2yarder, Duvall zipped 12 yards and Sharp went up the middle from a yard out as the lead ballooned to 40-0 with 8:17 remaining. Interceptions by Jaeden Layne and Bobby Hale led to two of the TDs, while a Red Devils fumble recovery set up another.
In all, Russell ran for 378 yards while shutting down Boyd County’s ground game to 37 yards on 28 carries.
Duvall, who last season had only 11 rushing attempts, gained at least 12 yards on six of his nine totes Friday.
“When he goes, he goes,” Maynard said. “If Landen follows his blocking and we can get him to the edge, his shoulders square downhill, it’s fun to watch. When he gets a seam, Katy bar the door. He’s gone.”
Boyd County tried to answer after falling into a 14-0 hole. Donaven Whitehead returned the ensuing kickoff all the way to Russell’s 12, but the Red Devils held on downs.
Boyd threatened again late in the half. Quarterback Ethan Cox connected with Whitehead for 27 yards to the Lions’ 13 on the last play.
Whitehead, the Lions’ top playmaker, sustained an injury early in the third quarter and did not return.
Cox finished 11 of 18 for 165 yards despite constant defensive pressure. He found Phillip Fryer for a 46-yard score to get Boyd County on the scoreboard with 4:59 left.
Maynard is hoping Russell’s performance is a sign of things to come.
“We have a long way to go,” he said. “The next five weeks are important to us. We keep making changes and piecing things together.”