RUSSELLVILLE – Mikie Benton knew Chevis Elliott was going to be the leader of his Russellville football team’s defense entering the season.
On Friday, the senior played like it.
Elliott had two interceptions and a fumble returned for a touchdown to lead the Panthers’ defense in a 14-12 win over Franklin-Simpson at Rhea Stadium.
“We just had to come out and play hard,” Elliott said. “We knew that we could come out and do it if we got our minds right. We put the work in in practice and we got the win.”
Russellville (1-1) caused problems for the Wildcats offensively from the start. Franklin-Simpson’s first two plays went for negative yards, and facing third-and-17, quarterback Luke Richardson was picked off by Elliott, who snagged the ball with one hand and put the Panthers in prime field position with a return to Franklin-Simpson’s 19-yard line.
Franklin-Simpson held Russellville out of the end zone and a field goal attempt was no good, but Elliott was in the middle of things when the Wildcats got the ball back.
Richardson was hit hard by Josh McMurry and fumbled on the first play of the ensuing possession, and Elliott was there to grab the ball and return it to the end zone for a 7-0 lead at the 8:47 mark in the first quarter.
“My teammates Josh McMurry, he made a big hit,” Elliott said. “He fumbled the ball, I picked it up and scored. I have to give my big boy some credit.”
Franklin-Simpson, in its first game with Max Chaney as head coach after the departure of Doug Preston in the offseason for John Hardin, began looking like the Franklin-Simpson of recent years shortly after.
The Wildcats strung together a 15-play, 61-yard drive that mainly came on the ground and ended with a 1-yard keeper from Richardson with just north of a minute left in the opening period. The extra point attempt missed, and Russellville held a 7-6 lead until a 7-yard fourth-down scoring run from Omar Harrison with 6:53 to play in the half. Franklin-Simpson’s two-point attempt was unsuccessful.
“I saw some bad things and I saw some bright things,” Chaney said. “We’ve got some good young talent and that’s what they are – they’re young and inexperienced. We had some problems with them blitzing quite a bit and we have some inexperienced guys on the O-line, but I think we can clean that up.
“It’s a first game, first scrimmage with inexperienced kids, so we’ll go to the film and try to get better.”
Russellville quickly answered, scoring again on its next possession with a 33-yard reverse to Jacquis Todd to take a 14-12 lead into halftime.
“Jacquis is a game changer. Jacquis has speed that we just didn’t have last year,” Russellville offensive coordinator Pete Ries said. Benton had to leave immediately following the game.
“We got our quarterback this week with the offense still getting its feet under itself, but at the same time we were a lot more controlled, we were able to control the ball, we had a couple passes that should have been there – quarterback first game back, just didn’t make them – but the offense is going to be explosive.”
The Panthers failed to find the end zone in the second half in the first game with quarterback Lennon Ries, who missed the opener, back. The best chance to add some insurance came when they reached the Wildcats’ 13 heading into the fourth, but a fourth-down attempt at the end zone was broken up by Isaiah Rigsby. The freshman also had an interception the series before.
Ries finished with 57 yards passing on four completions, while adding 38 yards rushing. Jovari Gamble had 99 yards rushing, with the majority of that coming on runs of 46, 24 and 27 yards in his last three carries.
But while Russellville’s offense couldn’t find any insurance, its defense held off Franklin-Simpson’s chances.
The Panthers forced a punt on the Wildcats’ first possession of the second half, and turnover on downs on the next two. Franklin-Simpson got the ball back with 6:46 to play, but the chance of a go-ahead drive ended when Elliott came up with his second interception with 3:07 left. Three plays later, Gamble reeled off a 27-yard run and Russellville ran out the clock from there.
“Chevis is one of the best football players in the state – there’s no doubt about it,” Pete Ries said. “You give that kid three more inches and he goes to any college in America. He has been a football player from the day he woke up, I think. He’s just a great football player.”
Richardson had 91 yards on 5-of-13 passing and Malik Carter led the rushing attack with 65 yards on 15 carries. Franklin-Simpson is scheduled to host Allen County-Scottsville next week.
Russellville bounces back from a loss to Logan County in its opener to move to 1-1, and is scheduled to host Somerset next week.
FSHS 6 6 0 0 – 12
RHS 7 7 0 0 – 14
RHS – Chevis Elliott 10 fumble return (Dustin Brown kick), 8:47
FSHS – Luke Richardson 1 run (Kick missed), 1:11
FSHS – Omar Harrison 7 run (two-point conversion failed), 6:53
RHS – Jacquis Todd 33 run (Brown kick), 3:56