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Kenneth Boone / The Outlook Stanhope Elmore's Conner Bradford (14) is brought down by Benjamin Russell.

A lot of coaches use the phrase, “Our defense bent but it didn’t break.”

But Friday night, it’s hard to say Stanhope Elmore’s defense even bent.

The Mustangs, who boast an incredibly strong defensive line, did everything they should’ve up front and they also got some great efforts by their defensive backs. They finished with three interceptions, one of which was a touchdown-saving pick, and that led to a 12-7 victory over Benjamin Russell in Class 6A Region 3 action.

“DJ McGhee had a huge interception right there (on the goal line),” Stanhope coach Brian Bradford said. “We played a little timid because of what happened last week. We were getting through the nerves a little bit. But once we got in, we played and let loose and let that monkey off our back of last week.”

Stanhope (2-1, 1-0) picked apart Benjamin Russell’s offensive schemes, especially in the first half. The Wildcats (1-2, 0-1) finished with only 14 yards of offense the entire first half. 

BRHS struggled to move the ball at all between the tackles. It finished with just 64 rushing yards and averaged only 2.8 yards per carry. But BRHS knew Stanhope was going to be tough to rush against; it had a plan. That plan just failed.

“We need to look at what we’re doing on the field,” Benjamin Russell coach Kevin Smith said. “Do we need to just come in and go as basic as we can? We had the same trouble running inside that everybody else that plays them had, but when you can’t run inside and you can’t block on the perimeter, it’s not good. That’s what we were faced with (Friday night).”

It also seemed like every time the Wildcats did something right offensively, they followed up with a negative play. And those negative plays came in spades; whether they lost yardage or were backed up because of a penalty or just threw an interception, they just couldn’t get any consistently going. 

But as bad as Benjamin Russell’s offense played, the Wildcats had a chance to win. They led 7-6 with 1:17 left in the third quarter after a 30-yard touchdown pass from Carter Smith to Jay Brown and a point after by Campbell Woods.

The defense did its job on the ensuing possession, forcing Stanhope to go three and out and punt from deep within its own territory. That gave the Wildcat offense at midfield. But after Hezekiah Hunter gained 3 yards on the first play, BRHS was backed up with a negative-5 rushing play to once again face third and long.

“I thought the defense fought hard,” Smith said. “They came out early and got kind shook early but it was kinda like last year. They came out and shut it down, and obviously (the offense) didn’t help them.”

On Stanhope’s next possession, the Mustangs were driving the ball well but with a pair of tackles for a loss, they were forced into a fourth-and-4 situation. But a pass interference call against BRHS let the Mustangs recharge. They made the Wildcats pay when Andrew Rines scored from 24 yards out.

Rines, who was hoping to be more two-dimensional in Stanhope’s offense this week, did just that. He scored both the Mustangs’ touchdowns and had 109 passing yards to go along with 64 on the ground. Rines also did a nice job of creating out of bad situations.

“I saw a lot of growth from him,” Bradford said. “We got him there because he’s a winner and he’s a great leader. We knew he had this in him. Last week was just a debacle from the start and it was just like everything just collapsed around him. I thought he really stepped up and ran the ball hard. He took some amazing shots and he kept fighting.”

Quentarius Edwards and Jeremy Thompson also had interceptions for Stanhope.

Benjamin Russell’s Gavin Edwards turned his game around defensively, grabbing an interception and recovering a fumble on a Stanhope punt return that was dropped. 

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.