NEW LONDON - West Rusk Raiders head football coach John Frazier had two goals coming into this season; to win district and make the playoffs.
Even though his team didn’t win the district title (Waskom finished first in District 8-3A Division II) his team finished second and has put together an impressive 11-1 record after going 3-7 last season.
West Rusk hopes to keep things rolling when the Raiders have a Thanksgiving night meeting with Omaha Paul Pewitt (8-4) at Lobo Stadium in the Longview. The third round regional playoff game is scheduled to kickoff at 6 p.m.
In the area round on Friday, the Raiders rolled past Howe 31-14 in Forney.
The main reason why the Raiders have been successful this season is because of their star running back Nick Ballard.
Ballard has rushed for 2,040 yards and 18 touchdowns on 278 carries. The school’s all-time leading rusher is the engine that keeps the train running.
“I just do what I can to help my team win,” Ballard said. “I’m glad that the coaches and my teammates have the trust in me that they do.”
D.J. Hicks is the speedster that is always a threat to score each time he touches the ball. Whether if he’s spelling Ballard or lining up with him in the backfield he has a knack for making big plays.
During Week 5 versus Arp, West Rusk was faced with third-and-10 at the Raiders’ own 25. Quarterback Dee Starling got in trouble but found Hicks in of the flat. Hicks then proceeded to make two defenders miss and he raced 75 yards for the score.
“I just tell the coaches to feed me the ball when I’m out there,” Hicks said.
Hicks also gashed the Frankston Indians for a 52-yard TD reception coming out of the backfield.
For the season, Hicks has gained 622 receiving yards this season. It is the receiving standard in the school’s football history.
Starling has also played well. With teams keying in on Ballard and Hicks, Starling has been very efficient in the passing game. He finds mismatches and makes the defenses pay.
Starling and Breyon Thurman hooked up for three touchdown passes against Arp. Against Winona, Kevin Jones hauled in three TD passes from Starling.
“We all have been playing together for a long time and I’m happy how things have been going for us this year,” said Starling, who has completed 86 of 142 pass attempts for 1,621 yards and 25 TD passes.
He joins his teammates Ballard and Hicks to be the record holder in that category in his school’s history.
“I have had this group for a while,” added Frazier. “I remember moving them up from JV when they were all in the eighth grade because we had so many injuries that year. I’m happy to see how things are going for us this year.”
The winner of the West Rusk vs. Omaha Paul Pewitt will face either Arp (7-5) or Waskom (12-0) next week.
Arp and Waskom, fellow District 8-3A Division II mates, will play at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Pine Tree’s Pirate Stadium in Longview.