By JUSTIN RAINS
Coming off of its bye week, the Palestine football team showed visible signs of rust during the first half of the Wildcats game here at Wildcat Stadium against Rusk.
An interception on their first possession and a turnover on downs on their second — thanks to a bobbled snap — saw the Wildcats trail the Eagles, 14-0, early in the second quarter.
But, the Wildcats finally woke up, and after a five-yard touchdown run from Rusk’s Chaston Bennett — his second of the night — Palestine turned it on.
Palestine scored 29 unanswered points from then until late in the fourth quarter, turning what had been a comfortable Rusk lead into a comfortable advantage for Palestine, en route to a 35-28 victory.
It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that Palestine finally tied the game up, when Paul Barksdale streaked into the end zone from 40 yards out to knot things at 21.
Barksdale’s run came one play after Palestine ran almost the exact same play with Darrius Stephens, who ran around the left side for 33 yards, and was then tackled by his facemask to tack on 15 more.
Rusk had a chance to extend its lead on its previous possession however, when quarterback Chase Stanley — filling in for injured signal-caller Kody Stanley — found a wide open receiver in the end zone on 4th-and-5 from the Palestine 11.
But, the receiver dropped the ball in the end zone, setting up the 89-yard drive by Palestine to tie things up.
On the ensuing possession, Rusk managed to move the ball into Palestine territory, but fumbled — the Eagles third of the night and second that Palestine recovered.
The Wildcats, who ran almost at will in the second half, rumbled down the field once again, and with 6:50 left to play in the game, took their first lead on a one-yard run from Jarrell Owens.
Rusk again moved the ball into Wildcat territory, but Chase Stanley’s pass on 4th-and-5 from the Palestine 42 fell incomplete and Palestine took over.
The Rusk defense appeared ready to hold — thanks to an illegal chop block penalty that negated a 33 yard run from Stephens — and had Palestine facing a 3rd-and-18 from inside its own territory.
The Wildcats went for the safe play, and handed off to Barksdale. But, the senior refused to go down, breaking tackles and fighting his way for 20 yards and a first down at the Rusk 40.
On the next play, Jadarrius Beasley put things away.
The senior took the ball and got to the left corner, streaking up the sideline for the score that gave Palestine a 35-21 advantage with less than two minutes to play.
Rusk made things interesting on the ensuing kick-off, which took place at the 20 after a personal foul call on Palestine.
The Wildcats attempted to squib-kick it to avoid giving the Eagles’ speediest players a chance at a return.
But, Keshannon Dearman grabbed the kick and streaked up the Palestine sideline for the score, giving Rusk life with 1:17 to play.
The Eagles then attempted an onside kick, but it went out of bounds and Palestine went into the victory formation.
Rusk started the game off with a bang, turning an interception by Palestine quarterback on the Wildcats’ second play from scrimmage into seven points.
Chase Stanley capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run.
Palestine helped extend the drive when a Wildcat defender tackled a Rusk runner by the facemask, negating what would’ve been a negative play. Rusk also converted on 4th-down on the drive inside the 20, as Chase Stanley ran for seven around the edge to set up the score.
On Palestine’s ensuing possession, the Wildcats faced a fourth down of their own inside Rusk territory, which PHS coach Lance Angel decided to go for.
But, Clark couldn’t handle the snap, and his hand-off was a bit late, which caused Ben Luckett to get tripped up at the line of scrimmage, a yard shy of the first.
Rusk took that opportunity and ran with it, literally.
The Eagles drove down the field, and facing another 4th down — this one inside the five — gave the ball to Bennett.
The senior star did the rest, scoring a three-yard touchdown.
Beasley got Palestine on the board on the Wildcats next drive, scoring from 14 yards out.
Palestine ran for 270 yards in the game, with 211 of that coming in the second half on only 20 carries.
Beasley ran for a team-high 70 yards on three carries, while Barksdale had 65 yards, also on three carries.
Luckett added 49 yards and Stephens 39 to the Wildcat tally.
Rusk ran for 240 yards as a team, led by Bennett’s 135, 80 of which came in the first half.
Neither team threw much, with Clark finishing 2-of-4 for 15 yards and with two interceptions for Palestine. Chase Stanley was 2-of-3 for Rusk for 15 as well.