PALESTINE – The Palestine Wildcats escaped with a 23-13 win over the Rusk Eagles Friday night inside Wildcat Stadium.
Nothing other than a “weird night” is what Palestine head coach Lance Angel described their five turnover performance against Rusk to be.
After not committing a turnover through their first two games, the Wildcats had three fumbles and an interception thrown in the first half.
The tone was set from the first play from scrimmage for the Wildcats when Jakaryon Conley coughed up the ball – setting Rusk up on the Wildcat 35-yard line.
The Palestine defense responded with forcing Rusk into a fourth-and-12 from the Wildcat 21. The Eagles decided to go for it and a would-be incompletion was saved by a pass interference call on a Palestine defensive back.
The fresh set of downs amounted to three straight incompletions for the Eagles – forcing them to settle for a field goal. However, the Wildcats frontline ripped through the Rusk wall to block the kick. It would set a dominant trend for the Palestine defense moving forward.
On the opposite end, Palestine's offense did little with the burst of momentum. Quarterback De'myzjean Martin had his pass picked off by Chris Perez four plays later.
Perhaps the play of the first half came from Jakaryon Conley who chased down Perez three yards out from the endzone.
The Wildcats defense took over from there stuffing the Eagles for a zero yard run, a loss of four, and an incompletion before forcing another field goal, miss.
Palestine's offense continued to struggle as they found themselves in a three-and-out. They would eventually find life as the first quarter came to a close.
Martin connected with Kendrick Barrett for a 29-yard gain that set them up on the Rusk 10-yard line. A couple plays later, sophomore Shedrick Dudley found the endzone to put the Wildcats out in front 6-0, extra point was no good.
After Rusk was forced to punt, Palestine was in a position to put themselves out in front of two scores with 10 minutes left until half. Their first play saw Dudley burst through the hole for a highlight run until a Rusk defender punched the ball loose 30 yards downfield.
Neither team did much to create momentum. The Wildcats were pinned deep in their territory with 5:07 left until half when Conley had his second fumble of the game.
With the ball on Palestine's 30, the Eagles did not waste time taking advantage of the opportunity. Owen McCown connected with Joseph McGowan from five yards out to take a 7-6 lead following the ensuing extra point.
The Wildcats responded with a nine-play drive before half that resulted in a field goal – pushing them to a 9-6 advantage.
Rusk's first two drives of the second half ended in punts, as did Palestine's first drive. Their second drive saw them call Dudley's number once again. He capped off their seven-play drive with a 39-yard touchdown run – his second of the day. The extra point put the Wildcats up 16-7.
Rusk responded by attempting to stack together with a methodical drive. The McCown-McGowan connection showed another brief flash with a 17-yard pickup on second-and-12 that put the Eagles on the Wildcats' 31.
A pair of solid runs moved the ball to the 17. But a 10-yard sack erased all momentum the Eagles had going for them in the fourth quarter. Two of their next three plays resulted in incompletions and a turnover-on-downs.
Palestine kept their foot on the gas and also ate up nearly five minutes of game time.
Conley started the drive hot, but it was Dudley who finished it with a 27-yard touchdown run for the hat trick on the night. The extra point was good as Palestine held a 23-7 with 4:45 left in the game.
Rusk fought back with a long touchdown drive but failed to recover the onside kick.
The Wildcats are on the road next week to battle number seven ranked Waco Connally Cadets.