LJ Harper + No. 4 West Rusk Win Thriller Against No. 7 Gladewater, 27-26
GLADEWATER -- John Frazier stood with his hands on his knees, still trying to catch his breath.
The West Rusk coach was minutes removed from likely his most stressful moment of the season. He, along with a packed Jack V. Murphy Stadium, watched as Justice Hassek lined up for a 35-yard field goal and a chance to give Gladewater the victory. The kick was on line and the Gladewater sideline celebrated as if it were good.
The referees signaled otherwise.
The kick fell just short. The Raiders survived a game in which they had plenty of chances to lose, holding on for a 27-26 victory. LJ Harper, who was on the field for the kick, said the moment left him feeling overwhelmed.
“My stomach dropped," he said. "I could barely breathe when I saw it was too short. I was just happy.”
Harper played a large role in leading No. 4 West Rusk (6-0, 2-0 District 8-3A Division I) to the win. Playing with a high ankle sprain, he finished with a season high 226 yards passing and all four of the Raiders' touchdowns. He made several key plays, including the go-ahead touchdown pass to DJ Hart with 1:22 remaining.
"He practiced yesterday for the first time all week," Frazier said. "He wasn’t supposed to run the ball. We told him all night that if he got to scrambling, just slide or throw it away. But he’s too much of a competitor. It showed tonight.”
Harper threw three touchdowns in the first half, but his lone in the second proved the biggest of the game. He led the Raiders on the game-winning drive by converting twice on fourth down, including on a 4-yard out route to Talon Winings, who finished with 85 yards receiving and a touchdown.
“They were running a cover 2 press defense and the corners were supposed to stay flat," Winings said. "We had been hitting 11 all night on the fade, so they put defenders on him. He hit me on the out route and I got what I could.”
The Raiders quickly lined up after that, but Harper didn't like what he saw from the defense. He audibled for DJ Hart to run a slant and threw to him for a 11-yard touchdown. That ended up the last score of the game.
About the only area where Harper failed to make an impact was on defense. Normally a starting safety, he was kept out most of the game to avoid worsening the ankle sprain.
"I couldn't play defense, as badly as I wanted to," Harper said. "I couldn’t run the ball unless I needed to. Going into halftime, it was killing me.
"I wanted to go in so many times. (Jamal Ford) stepped up in my spot and did his job. I was telling them to be smart and stay focused.”
Gladewater (5-1, 1-1) took its first lead with 5:46 left after Rashaud Johnson ran in for a 1-yard touchdown on fourth down. Johnson was solid all game for the Bears, finishing with 71 yards and two touchdowns.
Eli Carter, who had previously rushed for at least 100 yards in every game this season, was held to 98 yards on 22 carries.
Harper's first touchdown went to Winings, who ran 63 yards for the score. That included a stiff arm of the Gladewater defender to reach the end zone with 6:18 in the first quarter.
West Rusk won in spite of four turnovers and 11 penalties, nine of which came during the fourth quarter.
The Raiders now turns their attention to White Oak at 7:30 p.m. next Friday in New London. Gladewater will face Mineola at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Mineola.
Although teams are typically modest about victories, Harper provided a bit of insight into how far a victory of this nature will take West Rusk in District 8-3A.
“It feels pretty big," he said. "Just beating a top 10 team is a pretty big deal.”
West Rusk 27, Gladewater 26
At Jack V. Murphy Stadium, Gladewater
West Rusk 7 14 0 6 -- 27
Gladewater 7 7 6 6 – 26
WR – Talon Winings 63 pass from LJ Harper (Alexis Magallanes kick), 6:18.
GLAD – Rashaud Johnson 1 run (Justice Hassek kick), 0:23.
WR – Trevor Henson 17 catch from Harper (Magallanes kick), 11:06.
GLAD – T.C. Minter 33 from Tristan Holmes (Hassek kick), 7:46.
WR – Henson 15 pass from Harper (Magallanes kick), 2:22.
GLAD – Tristan Holmes 3 run (kick no good), 2:50.
GLAD -- Johnson 1 run (2-point no good), 5:36.
WR -- DJ Hart 11 pass from Harper (2-point no good), 1:21.
First Downs 8 18
Total Yards 287 306
Rushes-Yards 21-61 52-192
Passing Yards 226 114
Comp.-Att.-Int. 12-18-2 6-13-0
Punts-Avg. 1-41.0 3-36.3
Fumbles-Lost 3-2 2-0
Penalties-Yards 11-91 8-72
RUSHING—West Rusk, Tyrell Moore 11-22, DJ Hart 4-16, Trevor Henson 1-8, Brian Tarbutton 1-6, Gage Whitlock 2-5, LJ Harper 2-4. Gladewater, Eli Carter 22-98, Rashaud Johnson 18-71, Tristan Holmes 9-18, Christian Holmes 1-7, AJ Harris 2-(-2).
PASSING—West Rusk, Harper 12-18-2--226. Gladewater, Holmes 6-13-0—114, Carter 0-1-0--0.
RECEIVING—West Rusk, Talon Winings 4-85, Koure Johnson 2-65, Trevor Henson 3-49, DJ Hart 3-27. Gladewater, T.C. Minter 3-53, Carter 1-39, Jailyn Robertson 2-22.