PLANT CITY — He threw up all week, missing a few practices.
He threw up before the game, but begged his coaches to let him play anyway.
And he threw up at halftime, but told his teammates he was just getting started.
Yeah, Fred Russ was sick, but so was his performance Friday.
“I promised the team if they let me play, it’d be the best game of my career,” Russ said before keeping his promise.
The Tampa Bay Tech middle linebacker had three sacks, a dozen or so tackles and recovered a fumble in the end zone for the final score, carrying the Titans to a 38-21 victory over Plant City.
Russ even got a bonus. With the outcome wrapped up, he carried the ball three times, gaining 20 yards and a first down.
“We were going to reward him,” Tech coach Jayson Roberts said. “He’s always asking for it at the end of games. ‘Let me eat, Coach, let me eat.’ So we let him have a little bit of dessert tonight.”
Russ’ performance punctuated the Titans’ fifth straight win since losing their season opener. They never trailed, but the Raiders (4-2) were always close behind despite being outgained 386 yards to 171.
Tech led 18-7 at halftime, and ran seven plays inside the Plant City 10 on two drives to start the third quarter, but it came away with no points.
Plant City quarterback Landon Galloway turned a Sedrick King interception into points with a 17-yard run to make it 18-14, but Elijah Span, who had a touchdown catch in the first half, took the ensuing kickoff 86 yards to put the Raiders in front.
But Plant City wasn’t going away. Defensive end John Broome forced a fumble that Sawyer Dawson scooped up and ran in for a score, making it 24-21, and the Raiders forced a Tech punt on the next possession.
The punt, though, was fumbled and recovered by the Titans with 10 minutes left.
Roberts decided instead of driving a nail in the Plant City coffin, he would use a sledgehammer.
He called on senior Ricky Pyron, over and over and over again.
On the biggest drive of the game, Roberts fed Pyron the ball seven times in a row, and each time the Titan nudged his team closer to the end zone, eventually punching in a score with 6:30 remaining, sealing Tech’s victory.
Pyron, who came into the game with six carries, carried the ball nine times for 40 yards on the five-minute drive.
“Ricky running behind me at fullback, that was just the two toughest guys on the team right there,” Russ said. “That was the game-winner.”
Russ, an FIU commitment, fell on a Galloway fumble in the end zone that teammates Micah Tucker and Jalen Woodall caused for the final score of the game, and Pyron recovered the Raider’s fifth lost fumble of the game a few seconds later, setting up Russ’ dessert.
Pumped up, Russ screamed on the sideline about how Michael Jordan had played a game sick, and so could he, prompting a few ball boys to actually debate if Russ’ performance could be compared to the NBA great because, as one said, “This is football and there’s hitting so it’s harder to do that.”
Russ just laughed.
“Naw man, that was the finals,” he said. “But if I do it at state …”