By HUGHES ELLIS
Special to the News Herald
GLADEWATER – Two area Class 3A powers combined for one of the best games of the season Friday night.
Gladewater missed a 35-yard field goal with five seconds left, and No. 4 West Rusk escaped with a 27-26 victory over the seventh-ranked Bears in a District 8-3A, Division I game.
West Rusk remains undefeated (6-0) and will host White Oak this Friday. Gladewater slips to 5-1, and will visit Mineola.
Gladewater took its first lead of the contest on a 1-yard touchdown run by Rashaud Johnson with 5:36 remaining. The try for two failed with the Bears leading, 26-21.
West Rusk was the beneficiary of a fourth-down holding penalty on Gladewater to keep the ensuing drive alive, and WR quarterback L.J. Harper found Talon Winings for 3 yards on 4th-and-3 with 2:12 to go.
A pass to Koure Johnson 30 seconds later got the ball to the Bears 11-yard-line, and Harper connected with D.J. Hart on the next snap to put the Raiders back in front by a point.
West Rusk’s successful two-point conversion try was nullified by a penalty, and the second attempt failed to leave the Raiders up 27-26 with 1:21 left.
The Bears moved down the field thanks to a long pass to get the ball inside the 20 before ultimately missing the game-tying field goal attempt short. They drop to 5-1 overall and 1-1 in district.
Harper finished with four touchdown passes. His first scoring toss went for 63 yards to Winings and put West Rusk up 7-0 midway through the first quarter after Alexis Magallanes converted the PAT.
The Raiders’ defense forced a punt, but the offense fumbled the ball away at its own 15. Johnson capped the next Gladewater drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-all with 23 seconds remaining in the opening frame.
Harper put West Rusk back in front when he connected with Trevor Henson on a 17-yard touchdown pass less than a minute into the second stanza, and Gladewater countered on Tristan Holmes’ touchdown pass to retie the game at 14 with 7:46 to go before the break.
Harper would cap the first half with his third touchdown pass of the night and second to Henson. It covered 15 yards, Magallanes booted the PAT and the Raiders were up 21-14 at the half.
Gladewater opened the third quarter with a 20-play, nine-minute drive that resulted in a 3-yard touchdown run by Holmes. But the PAT failed, and the Raiders led 21-20 going into the fourth.
West Rusk’s defense held after a turnover late in the third and after another early in the fourth until Johnson gave the Bears their only lead of the night with his touchdown run with just over five minutes to go.
Harper, whose status for the game was somewhat in doubt after he suffered an injury against Mineola the week before, had a big night passing the ball. He was 12-of-15 for 228 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Raiders were held in check running the ball, but the passing game was effective.
The Raiders were able to keep up the pressure on the Bears with a furious pass rush. They had five sacks. Parker Mizell had two; Richardson, Jaime Garcia and Alvaro Cortez each had one.