Newton overpowers Raiders in third-round battle

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TATUM -- Two of Class 3A's 2017 powers met here Friday night for a UIL 3A, Division II playoff battle, a heavyweight showdown with the fourth round as the prize.

But unfortunately for the West Rusk Raiders and their fans, it'll be Newton that advances on into the playoffs.

The Raiders came up short, 21-7, on Friday night, finishing their season with a 10-2 record. West Rusk's only other loss was a one-point defeat at Elysian Fields in the next-to-last game of the regular season.

Newton's Eagles took only four plays to go 75 yards on the game's opening possession to take a quick 7-0 lead.

West Rusk had a big answer. Quarterback L.J. Harper tossed a screen to Tyree Wilson -- known primarily for his defense, but with good hands -- and Wilson did the rest, taking it into the end zone on a 34-yard scoring play.

Kicker Levi Hughes hit the extra point to tie the game at 7, capping the 53-yard drive.

Newton had an answer of their own, a 67-yard drive to reclaim the lead.

West Rusk couldn't manage points on its next possession.

Both teams came in with hardened defenses, each only allowing eight points a game, but West Rusk needed to respond, and it did.

The Raiders' defense stopped Newton's next drive in exciting fashion, an interception by D.J. Hart at his own 17-yard-line. The Raiders, led by Orlando Cortez and Darrien Wilson, shut the Eagles down the next three possessions and got West Rusk to the half trailing just 14-7.

But the Eagles aren't unbeaten for nothing. Newton scored on the opening possession of the second half, going up 21-7. West Rusk did get to the Eagles' 14 on a 35-yard interception return by Hughes, but ultimately turned the ball over on downs, when a fourth-down pass fell incomplete.

It was the second season in the last three years that the Raiders finished with double-digit wins. Since 2015, West Rusk is a combined 29-6.

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