PANAMA CITY — Rutherford’s new Wing-T attack looked Friday night like it could evolve into a force this coming football season.
Judging by how the Rams tackled in space in their 33-11 kickoff classic loss to Florida High at Tommy Oliver Stadium, it had better be potent.
The Seminoles, a Class 4A region semifinalist in 2013, scored all five of their touchdowns from 35 yards or more, and only on one occasion was a Ram defender able to make contact in the open field.
As a result, senior quarterback Ronnie Harrison, an Alabama commitment, accounted for five touchdowns. Three of them came on short passes that turned into TD dashes of 63, 80 and 74 yards.
Harrison, who also returned a kickoff 95 yards for a score and bolted 35 yards up the middle on a scramble, accounted for nearly 300 yards of total offense while rushing the ball just three times and completing 6 of 11 passes.
Still, Class 5A Rutherford, returning only a handful of starters from a 2-8 squad, was within 13-11 at halftime. That largely was the result of a time-consuming running game and the Rams having twice the number of plays from scrimmage than the Seminoles.
Senior running back Jordan Young was especially effective in the first half at both the wingback and fullback positions. He scored Rutherford’s lone touchdown on a 64-yard sprint and compiled 166 yards on 21 carries despite sitting out the entire fourth quarter.
The final 12 minutes featured younger players from both sides as Rutherford first-year head coach Rob Armstrong and Florida High’s Jarrod Hickman emptied their benches.
The ball-control dominance of Rutherford was readily apparent in the first quarter when the Rams conducted 20 plays from scrimmage to only one for Florida High. Yet the Seminoles led 13-3 entering the second quarter.
That underscored Florida High’s quick-strike ability.
Junior quarterback Jacquez Koonce led Rutherford downfield to Dailen Allen’s 37-yard field goal on the Rams’ first possession. His only pass completion of the night, 24 yards to Young, sparked a 13-play, 57-yard march that consumed nearly 6½ minutes on the clock.
Harrison returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards, and when the Rams were forced to punt on their second series Harrison’s short toss into the left flat turned into a 63-yard pass and run to Darrien Brown.
Rutherford needed only five plays to creep within two points. By far the biggest was Young breaking free between the tackles, making two nifty moves near midfield and streaking 64 yards for a touchdown. Koonce ran around the right side for a conversion to make it 13-11.
The Seminoles scored on the first play of the second half. In what looked like the identical play of Harrison’s first TD pass, Andres DeTorres snared Harrison’s flip and streaked 80 yards untouched.
Two more long touchdown plays followed in the third quarter as Florida High pulled away. Rutherford also will battle fatigue much of this season as a number of players see action on both sides of the ball.
It was somewhat ironic that the Seminoles took the biggest advantage of Rutherford’s defense and special teams early in each half when the Rams were fresh.
Wing-T guru Armstrong saw his running game amass 281 yards on 60 carries. In addition to Young, senior Malik Gibson gained 60 yards on 10 carries, most of them toss sweeps.
Joseph Boehm, who also played fullback and wingback, was an effective blocker on the outside for most of Gibson’s successful jaunts to the outside.
Rutherford will open its regular season next week at 7A power Niceville. The Rams don’t return to Tommy Oliver Stadium until Sept. 19 against Arnold.