West Rusk's Talon Winings

West Rusk senior Talon Winings (4) is among the Raiders hoping to get to the second round of the UIL Class 3A playoffs. To do that, they’ll need to beat Jefferson Thursday night at Longview’s Lobo Stadium. (Photo by RONNIE SARTORS)

Maybe nobody in the area appreciates being in the playoffs this year more than the West Rusk High School Raiders, if only because they had to have help – without having a game themselves.

Coach Nick Harrison’s Raiders are headed to the University Interscholastic League’s Class 3A, Division I postseason in Harrison’s first year. The Raiders (7-3) will take on Jefferson (8-2) at Longview High School’s Lobo Stadium on Thursday night at 7 p.m.

West Rusk certainly has enough wins to go, were it based on the entire body of work. But it’s based, of course, on your district record, and West Rusk’s three losses – to Gladewater (in the final seconds), Sabine, and Tatum – were all in District 8-3A, Division I.

On top of that, West Rusk drew the dreaded final-weekend-of-the-season open date. So the Raiders already had done all they could do when they defeated Winnsboro back on Nov. 1. They were off last weekend, and had to watch – and hope Gladewater could take out Tatum.

They did. And now, the Raiders need to focus on a good Jefferson team.

The Bulldogs won their first five games of the season, all non-district, of course, before running into Hughes Springs back on Oct. 4 (HS beat Jefferson by just one point, 29-28). Jefferson dealt Mount Vernon a 47-16 loss, but then lost at Atlanta by four points the following week.

Jefferson did beat down its final two opponents of the regular season: Hooks (49-7) and Redwater (41-7). Interestingly, the only two games of the season in which Jefferson scored less than 35 points were their two losses.

The winner of the West Rusk-Jefferson game advances in the playoffs to face either Malakoff or Commerce in round two.

The Raiders averaged right at 34 points a game and allowed an average of 24 over the course of the regular season. As mentioned, they haven’t played in two weeks.

West Rusk’s primary weapon, of course, is a very good running game that’s yielded 2,839 yards, 34 touchdowns and an average yards-per-carry of 7 ½.

Gavin Smith is the rushing leader with 1,184 yards and 12 touchdowns.

On the other side of the ball, Coltan Mills leads a good defense with 132 tackles. Rod Woodson has 112, and Jimmy Harper, 105. Alvaro Cortez and Woodson each have four sacks to lead the Raiders, and Talon Winings has four interceptions; Smith has three.

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