NICEVILLE — No amount of preparation could have steadied Rutherford for Niceville on Friday night.
It took exactly six seconds for what would become a 55-7 shellacking to begin, when Rutherford quarterback Jacquez Koonce threw into the flat only to be picked off by Scott Armfield.
Two plays later, Colby Tuthill found Aaron Willis for a 16-yard touchdown.
The rout was on..
Over Class 7A Niceville’s opening three drives, the Eagles (1-1) ran seven plays, found the end zone three times — two Tuthill passes (the second a 53-yard catch and run to Eli Stove) and a 31-yard run from Shi’Kim Coward — and averaged nearly 35 yards per play.
The game was less than four minutes young.
Somewhat unfathomably, that pace was nearly sustained throughout the remainder of the half.
Tuthill — who finished 7-8 for 158 yards and two touchdowns passing — ran a 6-yard score, Howard plunged in from 5, Drew Frederic took a keeper in from 10 yards and Chase Outzen returned a punt 68 yards.
In just 17 minutes of play, seven Eagles had found the end zone.
“On the perimeter they outplayed us,” Rutherford coach Rob Armstrong said. “Just faster than us. As good as we started the game last week we were as bad this week.
“We had the interception and two plays later they scored. It was the same thing defensively tonight” as in the kickoff classic loss to Florida High last week. The 5A Rams (0-1) couldn’t defend short passes toward the sideline and big plays ensued.
“They’ve got some good guys on the outside, but you’ve got to be in the right spots,” Armstrong said. “We lost our leverage sometimes, didn’t turn it back in to our help and gave up big plays.”
Maurice McDowell had a long scoring run for the Rams’ points that closed the deficit to 21-7, but it was one of few highlights for Rutherford.
“We felt good about it, then had a third-and-inches and got a procedure penalty,” Armstrong said. “Now it’s third-and-6 and we’re punting and they’re scoring again. We’ve got to be more disciplined when we have the ball.”
In addition to McDowell, Armstrong said that Uzavian Ross and Wesley Dickey were among the bright spots for Rutherford. Another plus was that the Rams emerged without any glaring injuries.
The Rams play at Class 4A East Gadsden County next week.
Northwest Florida Daily News sports writer Travis Mewhirter contributed to this report.