[By Matt Stepp, Special to ETSN.fm]

LONGVIEW – It’s been a total team effort all year for West Rusk Raiders, and that theme was prevalent once again as the Raiders rolled past Paul Pewitt, 31-12, in a Class 3A Division II Region II semifinal at Lobo Stadium on Thanksgiving night.

West Rusk quarterback Dee Starling completed 9 of 12 passes for 177 yards and two first-half touchdowns, while Nick Ballard led the way on the ground with 126 yards and a touchdown. Most of Ballard’s damage came in the first half as he sat out most of the second half with a leg injury. 

Paul Pewitt’s running game was led by quarterback Tyran Betts and running back Lamon Hillis, who each topped 100 yards rushing.

West Rusk (12-1) advanced to the Class 3A state quarterfinals next week where it will take on the winner of Friday's Arp-Waskom game. The game will be played next Friday at Lobo Stadium in Longview.

Paul Pewitt quarterback Tyran Betts tries to spin away from West Rusk's Kevin Jones during their Class 3A Division II regional semifinal Thursday night in Longview. (Evan Lewis, ETSN.fm)

In the first half, it was big plays the carried the day for the Raiders. On their first offensive series, Starling hooked up with Breyon Thurman for an 84-yard touchdown pass and a quick 6-0 West Rusk lead. 

After forcing a Paul Pewitt punt, Starling struck again, hooking up with Kevin Jones from 28 yards for a touchdown. Ballard ran in the two-point try, and West Rusk had a quick 14-0 lead in the first quarter.

The Brahmas (8-5) get the offense going late in the first quarter with a lengthy ball-control drive that culminated in a 6-yard touchdown run by Betts to cut the West Rusk lead to 14-6. 

West Rusk got the ground game going on its next series, almost exclusively using Ballard as a battering ram. Ballard scored from 20 yards to extend the lead to 21-6 for West Rusk.   

The back and forth continued as the Brahamas embarked on a 16-play, 90-yard drive, taking up the vast majority of what was remaining in the second quarter. Hillis capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal to cut the West Rusk advantage to 21-12 at the half.

The second half proved to be a defensive struggle. Both teams moved to the opposing team’s 20-yard line and turned the ball over on downs, and those two drives took up the entirety of the third quarter as the Raiders and Brahmas stuck to the ground game. 

West Rusk broke the stalemate with 4:27 remaining as Jose Cerda nailed a 27-yard field goal to extend the lead to 24-12.

After forcing a turnover on downs on the next series, West Rusk put the game away on a 7-yard touchdown run from DeVonta Medford.

“Playing on Thanksgiving is special, we spent the morning with our families and after lunch we came and spent tonight with our extended family here," said West Rusk coach John Frazier. "This experience playing a playoff game at Lobo Stadium and winning is something these kids and community will remember for the rest of their lives.”

West Rusk's Breyon Thurman hauls in an 84-yard touchdown reception in the Raiders' 31-12 win over Paul Pewitt in a Class 3A Division II regional semifinal Thursday night in Longview. (Evan Lewis, ETSN.fm)