[By Anthony Hawthorne, Special to ETSN.fm]

LONGVIEW -- Dee Starling didn’t throw an incomplete pass Thursday night at Lobo Stadium, and the West Rusk defense forced four turnovers, as the Raiders coasted to a 35-7 victory over Hughes Springs in a Class 3A Division II bi-district playoff.

Starling was razor-sharp, completing all nine of his passes for 211 yards and four touchdowns to lead the way for the Raiders (10-1).

“Just an outstanding job,” West Rusk coach John Frazier said of his senior quarterback. “He did what we needed him to do here in the playoffs, controlled the offense and threw the ball great. It always starts with him. If he’s confident, the rest of the team is confident.”

Nick Ballard added 129 yards on 14 carries and a score, while three different receivers found the end zone.

Hughes Springs' Zach Anderson (left) is pushed out of bounds by West Rusk defender LaJavius Harper during Thursday night's Class 3A Division II bi-district playoff in Longview. (Trey Bell, ETSN.fm)

DJ Hicks was Starling’s favorite target on the night, catching three passes for 138 yards and a pair of scores, Breyon Thurman caught three passes for 37 yards and a TD, and Kevin Jones caught a TD pass and collected his 10th interception of the season.

The Raiders advanced to the area round to face Howe, a 43-33 winner over Edgewood.

Hughes Springs ended its season at 6-5.

West Rusk scored on its first three possessions to jump out to a 21-0 halftime advantage, and despite a successful Hughes Springs onside kick to open the second half, the Raiders added to the lead early in the third.

Matthew Davidson rocked Hughes Springs quarterback Alex Bruce on a third-and-19 on the opening possession of the third quarter, and Joe Wright grabbed the fumble, giving the Raiders the ball at the 43-yard line.

After Starling hit Thurman for 6 yards on third-and 3, he hit Hicks four plays later for a 30-yard strike to push the lead to 28-0.

A Mustang turnover on downs gave the ball right back to the Raiders.

Ballard picked up 33 yards to the Hughes Springs 20-yard line, and three plays later, Starling collected his fourth TD of the night on a 17-yard fade to Jones.

Other than a possession that started with one second remaining until halftime that nearly found the end zone, the Raiders offense scored on five of its first six possessions.

The Hughes Springs offense controlled the ball for large portions of the game, even picking up 10 more first downs than the Raiders. However, crucial penalties and four turnovers did the Mustangs in.

Gabe Dubose put the Mustangs on the scoreboard late, getting in from a yard out midway through the fourth quarter.

Dubose finished with 55 yards on 14 carries for a Mustang offense that managed just 176 yards on 51 carries.

“Outstanding,” said Frazier of his defense. “That’s not an easy offense to defend. They’re a very well-coached team. They run the slot-T just as good as anybody. For our kids to go out and play the way they did, I’m proud of them.”

It took just one play for the Raiders to find the end zone.

After the defense forced a turnover on downs after stuffing Dubose on fourth-and-1, the offense took over at midfield. Ballard went straight up the middle on the first play for a 50-yard score and a quick 7-0 lead.

Hughes Springs quarterback Alex Bruce (3) fires a pass downfield during the Mustangs' 35-7 playoff loss to West Rusk on Thursday night in Longview. (Trey Bell, ETSN.fm)

After forcing a three-and-out, West Rusk went right back to work.

A methodical drive that consumed more than six minutes featured a steady dose of Ballard, who picked up a pair of first downs on third-down runs.

Starling then hit Levi Hughes for 12 yards on third-and 7, then hit Thurman for a 25-yard strike on third-and-6.

Jose Cerda tacked on the extra point for a 14-0 lead with 1:16 remaining in the first quarter.

Hughes Springs' next drive lasted 16 plays with Dubose picking up a third and fourth down with his legs. The drive ended at the Raiders' 6-yard line when the snap on the field goal attempt was low, forcing the holder to scramble before he was thrown for a 12-yard loss.

The Raiders took advantage, as Starling hit Hicks on an out-route, with the speedy receiver outrunning everyone up the sideline for a 65-yard score.

Jones then collected his 10th interception of the year on the next possession.

After the Mustangs reached the Raiders' 14-yard line, an intentional grounding penalty knocked them back 19 yards. Jones grabbed a heave just before the half on fourth down, running it back 46 yards to the 48-yard line.

The Raiders hook-and-ladder attempt with one remaining before the half came up just short, with Hicks being brought down at the 5-yard line.

West Rusk receiver DJ Hicks (1) pulls away from Hughes Springs' Bo McEntire for a 65-yard touchdown catch in the Raiders' 35-7 playoff win Thursday night in Longview. (Trey Bell, ETSN.fm)

West Rusk 35, Hughes Springs 7

Class 3A Division II Region II Bi-District Playoff
At Lobo Stadium, Longview

Hughes Springs       0      0      0      7      --      7
West Rusk             14      7    14      0      --    35

First Quarter
WR--Nick Ballard 50 run (Jose Cerda kick), 9:44.
WR--Breyon Thurman 25 pass from Dee Starling (Cerda kick), 1:16.
Second Quarter
WR--DJ Hicks 65 pass from Starling (Cerda kick), 3:26.
Third Quarter
WR--Hicks 30 pass from Starling (Cerda kick), 8:33.
WR--Kevin Jones 17 pass from Starling (Cerda kick), 4:51.
Fourth Quarter
HS--Gabe Dubose 1 run (Raphael Guilherme kick), 6:39.

                                        HS               WR
First Downs                        17                  7
Total Yards                       242              366
Rushes-Yards              51-176        25-155
Passing Yards                     66              211
Comp.-Att.-Int.            5-13-1            9-9-0
Punts-Avg.                    1-37.0         1-50.0
Fumbles-Lost                     3-3              2-1
Penalties-Yards                 6-53           6-66

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING--Hughes Springs, Gabe Dubose 14-55, Ty Menefee 9-24, Bo McEntire 13-42, Brynnin Taylor 3-15, Tony Kemp 2-5, Alex Bruce 5-(-11), Zach Anderson 5-46. West Rusk, Nick Ballard 14-129, Dee Starling 3-0, DJ Hicks 2-13, Jaylon Garland 5-14, LaJavius Harper 1-(-1).
PASSING--Hughes Springs, Bruce 5-13-1--66. West Rusk, Starling 9-9-0--211.
RECEIVING--Hughes Springs, Anderson 4-28, McEntire, 1-38. West Rusk, Kevin Jones 2-24, Levi Hughes 1-12, Breyon Thurman 3-37, Hicks 3-138.