By Jeff Nations
MADISON -- Robert Rutherford has snapped that chin strap and taken the field for Warren County High School's football field with some regularity this season, but the stakes were much higher than normal for the sophomore backup quarterback on Friday night.
With Wildcats starter Austen Butler sidelined with an injury late in the first quarter in Friday night's Bull Run District matchup against Madison County, Rutherford took the field to start the second quarter of a game still very much in doubt. By the time he was done, it wasn't. Rutherford passed for two touchdowns -- the first of his varsity career -- and Warren County's dominant defensive effort helped the Wildcats roll to a 40-3 victory that locked up a home playoff game next week.
Warren County picked off four passes and recovered three fumbles against the hard-pressed Mountaineers, who could do little on offense after producing a 3-0 lead on their opening drive when Dylan Berry connected on a 20-yard field goal.
Warren County responded in just four plays, as Kris Deal popped through a hole and bounced to the right sideline for a 36-yard touchdown run with 4:21 left in the first quarter that put the Wildcats up 7-3.
That's where it stood when Butler left with an injury after getting sacked late in the first quarter. Rutherford was behind center for the Wildcats' next possession, and in three plays helped get them to the end zone when he hit Jontae Rollins on a bubble screen that went for a 35-yard touchdown.
"I always try to be ready," said Rutherford, who completed 7 of 9 passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns. "I get a lot of reps in practice, and I was ready for that situation."
The Wildcats struck again on their next possession in just one play as running back Demetrus Yates (game-high 120 rushing yards) broke off a 75-yard touchdown run to put his team up 19-3 with 7:11 left in the first half.
Warren County's defense, which sacked Madison County quarterback James Graves four times, set up another second-quarter score with another big play when Casey Stewart intercepted an ill-advised halfback option pass by Immanuel Gentry.
Rutherford directed a nine-play, 41-yard touchdown drive that ended with his 8-yard slant pass to Stewart. That touchdown put the Wildcats up 26-3 heading into halftime.
"I'll tell you what, we feel as confident with this guy in here as anything in the world," Warren County coach Tony Tallent said of Rutherford.
It didn't get much better for Madison County in the second half. Eric Baker came up with the Wildcats' second interception of the third quarter and returned it 32 yards to set up another score. Josh Newman capped the four-play, 42-yard drive with a 29-yard touchdown run to put the Wildcats up 33-3 with 11:08 to play.
That was one of several big plays for Newman, who had a pair of first-half sacks and several nice runs among his 81 rushing yards. The best was still to come, though. On Madison County's next possession, Warren County's Josh Mallicoat crushed Graves for a fumble-forcing sack. Newman scooped up the loose ball and raced 65 yards for the game's final touchdown.
"Everybody stepped up and hit on all cylinders," Newman said. "The D-line was really getting pressure, the linebackers were stopping the run, the DBs were ball-hawking, getting picks left and right. It was a total team effort."
In addition to forcing seven turnovers, Warren County's defense allowed just 116 yards of total offense.
"I thought the defensive coaches came up with a great scheme and I was just really happy the kids executed," Tallent said. "I thought our kids played hard. They wanted that home playoff game really, really bad."
The only potential clouds for the Wildcats came on the injury front. Yates, who needed just 12 carries to reach 120 rushing yards, joined Butler on the bench with an injury suffered in the second half.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>