[By Matt Stepp, Special to ETSN.fm]

LONGVIEW – The West Rusk Raiders wasted little time jumping on the Union Grove Lions, scoring on the first play from scrimmage in an easy 35-7 win Saturday night at Lobo Stadium.

West Rusk (2-0) was extremely balanced on offense, racking up 305 rushing yards, which included four players with at least 41 yards rushing. Meanwhile, the Raiders defense held the Union Grove offensive attack without a first down for the first 20 minutes of the game.

“Our entire defense came out really strong, they set the pace early and gave the ball back to the offense and that helped us get out to a good lead,” said West Rusk coach John Frazier.

The game’s opening score was delivered by West Rusk senior quarterback Dee Starling, who lofted a 65-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Breyon Thurman, who had a great catch after getting past a Union Grove corner.  Leading 7-0, West Rusk’s defense delivered a quick three-and-out, and gave the ball right back to the offense.

The damage on this drive was done by big senior running back Nick Ballard, who broke off two long runs to set the Raiders up to take a 14-0 lead after Ballard punched it in from 7 yards out. West Rusk forced another three-and-out for Union Grove and appeared to be ready to extend the lead, but Union Grove’s Tanner Stanley picked off Starling at the Union Grove 2-yard line to end the threat.

West Rusk’s defense pinned the Lions back, not allowing a first down and the Raiders capitalized on the good field position, adding to their lead as sophomore running back Ty’corrias Simon scored from 18 yards out making it 21-0 West Rusk after one quarter of action.

The pace of the game slowed down quite a bit from that point on as Union Grove milked the play clock down on most plays, which limited the possessions from both sides. West Rusk added another score before halftime as Starling hooked up with senior receiver DJ Hicks for a 23-yard touchdown pass on a perfectly thrown seam route to put West Rusk up 28-0. By the end of the first half, a running clock was employed at the request of the Union Grove coaching staff.

Union Grove finally got on the board in the third quarter after West Rusk punter Levi Hughes mishandled the snap, and the Lions took over on the Raiders' 15-yard line. Two plays later, Union Grove quarterback Austin Owens hooked up with Stanley for an 18-yard touchdown, cutting the lead to 28-7.

On the next drive, West Rusk dashed any hopes of a rally as freshman running back Jaylon Garland scored on an impressive 16-yard run to end the scoring at 35-7.

“I thought we played real well the first half of the game, we aren’t used to getting up 28-0 like that and I think it’s a learning experience for our kids to learn how to keep the intensity up when we have a lead. We are proud of the kids. They were out of routine a little bit but they did a great job overall,” said Frazier after the win.