FAIRVIEW — Frigid weather, mushy field conditions and an injured star player were some of the potential distractions that the Fairview football team faced on Friday night.
The Yellow Jackets ignored them all.
Fueled by Kam Harris-Lusk’s four touchdowns and Blake Russell’s three interceptions, the top-seeded Jackets posted a gutsy 33-22 victory over East Nashville on Friday night in the second round of the Class 3A state playoffs.
Fairview quarterback Brock Harris threw three touchdown passes and ran for another, and the Jackets’ defense came up with two pivotal defensive stands deep in their own territory during the victory.
“The kids just decided they weren’t going to lose tonight,” said Fairview head coach Chris Hughes. “I saw it in their eyes. And I am just so proud of them I can’t stand it.”
The victory sends Fairview (10-2) into the third round, where the Jackets will host — surprise! — Stratford next week. Stratford, which won only two games in the regular season, stunned Pearl-Cohn, 32-14, in Friday’s second round.
Fairview, which lost to Pearl-Cohn in the third round of last year’s playoffs, earned Friday’s victory against East Nashville (10-2) without the services of injured running back Logan Nardozzi. The Jackets offset his absence by executing on a series of gutsy play calls and by delivering a continual stream of big plays on both sides of the ball.
Harris helped lead the charge, completing 11-of-17 passes for 199 yards, and his favorite target, Harris-Lusk, had five catches for 156 yards. Harris-Lusk, a Mr. Football semifinalist, had touchdown catches of 13, 30 and 77 yards. He also rushed for 60 yards on 10 carries. Brody Cox added 59 tough yards on 18 carries.
Russell was also involved in several pivotal plays, including picking off a pass in the end zone early in the third quarter and returning it 66 yards. It was his second interception of the night, and he ultimately added a third — which essentially sealed the game — in the fourth quarter.
“This is what I live for,” said Russell. “I’ve been playing football since I was 5-years-old, and this has been my dream: To play high school football and succeed. It just feels amazing.”
The game was played in less-than-ideal conditions, including a biting wind, temperatures that hovered around 40 degrees, and a soggy field that made it almost impossible for players to make cuts.
“We went from the dead of the summer to the dead of winter, and I don’t think we had anything in between,” said Hughes. “We had five sideline heaters tonight.”
But in the end, none of the details really mattered much to the Jackets, other than the final score.
“Winning this game is an unbelievable feeling,” said Russell.
Fairview scored three touchdowns in the final 6 1/2 minutes of the second quarter to take a 20-16 lead into halftime. Harris and Harris-Lusk hooked up on all three touchdowns, although one of the scores happened in bizarre fashion. After hauling in a pass, Harris-Lusk was racing toward the end zone when he was blindsided by an East Nashville defender. The ball squirted loose near the goal line, but Harris-Lusk was able to recover it before it went out of the back of the end zone.
Harris and Harris-Lusk had touchdown connections of 13 and 30 yards during the eventful quarter.
East Nashville closed the first half by driving inside the Fairview five-yard line with a chance to take the lead. But East Nashville’s Rondarius Gregory, who scored two touchdowns in the game, was tackled just shy of the goal-line with less than five seconds to play in the quarter, and the Eagles weren’t able to run another play before time expired.
“We knew they didn’t have any timeouts,” said Hughes. “And we kept saying ‘bend, but don’t break.’ And we bent really far. … When they got stopped with three seconds left, I started yelling, ‘Get off the field.’ Because I was scared to death they were going to get another play off.”
The Yellow Jackets denied East Nashville of another scoring opportunity early in the third quarter when Russell broke up a pass in the end zone, snatched the ball out of the air and took off on a 66-yard return.
“That played changed the game,” said Hughes.
Fairview stretched its lead to 27-16 after a one-yard quarterback sneak by Harris with 2:39 remaining in the third quarter, but East Nashville answered with a touchdown with 13 seconds left in the quarter to trim the Yellow Jackets’ lead to 27-22.
Harris found Harris-Lusk on a 77-yard bomb with 8:16 to play in the fourth quarter, and the Jackets defense protected the lead the rest of the way.
Now, Fairview will begin preparing to face a suddenly-hot Stratford team.
“It doesn’t even matter to us (who the opponent is),” said Russell. “We’ll line up and play against anybody in the state.”
Fairview 33, East Nashville 22, Class 3A Second Round Playoff
at Fairview High School Friday, Nov. 9, 2018
EN – 8 8 6 0 — 22
FHS – 0 20 6 7 — 33
1Q 0:00 EN — Yukari Blanchard 11 pass from Arondai Thompson (Rondarius Gregory run);
2Q 6:21 Fair — Kam Harris-Lusk 13 pass from Brock Harris (Skyler Wilson kick);
2Q 5:02 EN — Gregory 4 run (Gregory run);
2Q 3:42 FHS — Harris-Lusk fumble recovery in end zone (run failed);
2Q 0:48 FHS — Harris-Lusk 30 pass from Harris (Wilson kick);
3Q 2:39 FHS — Harris 1 run (pass failed);
3Q 0:13 EN — Gregory 5 run (run failed);
4Q 8:16 FHS — Harris-Lusk 77 pass from Harris (Wilson kick).