The Russellville Cyclones needed a close game in Friday night’s last nonconference game before kicking off 7A/6A Central Conference action next week at Conway.
The Alma Airedales, who lost to Greenwood 47-7 last week, were ready and willing to oblige.
Alma went straight down the field on its first possession and took a 7-0 lead, and the Airedale defense forced RHS quarterback Cody Jones to throw three interceptions.
But the Cyclone defense had enough of teams rushing up and down the field on them, and kept Alma scoreless the rest of the game as Russellville beat the Airedales 17-7 and improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2009.
"We knew they would play hard, come well-prepared," Cyclones head coach Jeff Holt said. "The (Airedales) did a good job defensively on our offense. We really couldn’t get going, in a rhythm. We turnd the ball over, and that’s a recipe for disaster.
"But our defnse kept us in the game, kept them from getting anything going, and that was the difference in the ball game. I was proud of our defense. We knew we had to get better after Morrilton and Siloam Springs ran the ball on us. It was nice to see them do better up front."
Russellville, which won its first two games 43-28 and 45-23, had disaster strike on its first drive of the game. Cody Jones’ pass was intercepted by Alma’s Reynolds Beckham at the Airedales 20. Back-to-back penalties on the Cyclones then gave Alma (1-2) a first down at its 49-yard line.
Quarterback Evan Burris got the Airedales to the RHS 20, then the Airedales had a first and goal at the 5. On third down, Burris was sacked by Andrew Elam back at the 15, but both teams were hit with offsetting penalties.
Alma set up for a 24-yard field goal attempt, but another Cyclones penalty made it fourth-and-goal at the 4. First-year Airedales coach Dough Loughridge — who started his coaching career as Russellville’s defensive coordinator — put his offense back on the field and watched Malachi White cross the goal line from 4 yards out. Peyton Linker’s point-after kick gave Alma a 7-0 lead with 7:32 remaining in the first quarter.
The Airedales didn’t want to give the ball back so soon, but their onside kick attempt was recovered by Elam at the 43. Despite pickup up a couple more penalties, the Cyclones drove down to the Alma 7, but Jones’ third-down pass into the end zone was deflected. Allen Daiber’s 24-yard field goal cut Russellville’s deficit to 7-3 with 3:30 to go in the first quarter.
The Cyclones started the second quarter near midfield, but the shotgun snap went behind Jones 20 yards and gave Russellville a fourth down and 31 to go. That forced a 38-yard punt by Drew Smith.
Russellville finally got in the end zone after forcing Alma to punt. Facing third and nine at its 10, Cody Jones hit Tony Jones on a 15-yard pass for a first down to the 25. Tony Jones picked up another first down, at the 36, after an 11-yard gain.
Cody Jones then completed a pass to Co-Chese Temple-Laws to the Alma 35 for a gain of 31 yards. Jalen Curtis carried for a-10 yard gain to the Airedales 25.
Facing third and 10 at the 25 after another RHS penalty, Cody Jones hit Jalen Curtis in the middle of the zone defense and scored the 25-yard touchdown. Daiber’s PAT gave the Cyclones their first lead, 10-7, with 4:09 to go in the first half.
Russellville later gave Alma another first down on a pass interference penalty, after Alma faced third and 20 at its 29. The Airedales were forced to punt, and the Cyclones regained possession at their 18-yard line with 2:15 left in the first half.
Cody Jones hit Temple-Laws on a completion to the 30, but Temple-Laws carried Alma defenders with him on his back to the 41 for a total gain of 23 yards. Cody Jones then completed a third-down pass for 15 more yards to Curtis at the Alma 41-yard line.
Kentrell Scott took the shovel pass to the Alma 45, and the Cyclones took a time out with 50 seconds to go. Cody Jones then hit Curtis at the 30 for a first down after a 13-yard gain. Facing fourth down and 8 at the Airedales 28, Cody Jones was forced out of the pocket by Alma defenders and scrambled to the 23, not enough for the first down. The Airedales took over and took a knee to end the first half.
Russellville drove down the field again to open the third quarter. A Cody Jones to Tony Jones pass went to the Alma 5-yard line and converted the first down after facing fourth-and-7.
But Jones’ pass was intercepted at the 1-yard line by the Airedales after another tipped pass. Alma got to its 25, but Cyclones senior Isaiah McGlone stopped the drive and recovered Alma’s only fumble of the game — a turnover which the Airedales would pay for.
Cody Jones hit Tony Jones on a 23-yard touchdown strike a few plays later, and Daiber’s PAT made it 17-7 with 4:25 remaining in the third quarter. Jones would surrender one more interception, but still goes into his fourth game as a starter with 12 touchdown passes to four interceptions.
Jones finished 26-of-45 passing for 290 yards and two touchdowns, one to Curtis and the other to Tony Jones.
"They had a really good game plan," Holt said. "It made it tough on him (Cody Jones). I told him he was going to have nights like this, and the importnat thing is we won the game. We can learn from tonight and get better."
Alma advanced to the Cyclones 19 in the fourth quarter, but Tony Anderson came up with a big sack on Burris with 9:03 remaining. Lee Dorsey was another Cyclone who got a quarterback sack to force the Airedales to punt a few plays later.
Van Buren 49, Little Rock Fair 13
For the second straight season, Van Buren dominated Little Rock Fair to earn its first victory of the season 49-13.
Van Buren (1-2) led 35-7 at halftime, then invoked the mercy rule early in the second half. The Pointers led by as many as 49-7 before the War Eagles (1-2) added a late touchdown.
The Pointers will host two-time 7A champion Fayetteville next Friday to open 7A/6A-West action.