Thomas Edison once said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
The Rivercrest Rebels had plenty of reasons to give up Friday night in Alba-Golden as they faced injuries, ejections, and a scrappy Panthers football team. However, the senior leadership refused to quit and the resilient Rebels walked away with a 35-20 victory.
Senior Zachariah Lane got things started with an interception to give the Rebels great field position. Freshman Connor Young stepped into the running back role this week and wowed the crowd as he snuck down the right side of the field for 30 yards on his first run.
Quarterback Will Grider punched it in behind his offensive line to put the first points on the board, 7-0.
Alba-Golden, fresh off a two-week quarantine, was prepared to go to battle. It didn’t take long for quarterback Blake Weissert to find Caleb Anderson all alone after catching the secondary off guard for a 40-yard touchdown pass to tie the game 7-7.
The Rebels responded with a screen pass to Kirk Killian followed by a big run by Grider, who found a gaping hole provided by Carson Whitley and Alexis Barrientos, setting Rivercrest up in Panther territory again. Grider then threaded the needle on a pass to Chris Randolph who hauled it in and hot-footed it to the end zone.
Young’s point-after was good and RHS went up, 14-7.
The Panthers struggled in the second quarter, garnering several penalties,and there seemed to be lots of confusion on the sideline.
Despite this though, Alba-Golden buckled down and stopped Rivercrest two times in a row in Panther territory.
Fooling the Rebel defense again with the play-action fake allowed the Panthers to score an easy touchdown as Weissert found Hunter Wright in the middle of the field. Half-time brought a tied game, 14-14, thrilling the homecoming crowd at Alba-Golden.
The second half was all Rivercrest as Coach Lance Connot and company adjusted attitudes and positions.
“First off, our receivers all made plays in the passing game,” Connot said. “Zachariah, Chris and Brayden (English)all played big parts. Connor and Eli (Bivens) stepped up for us at running back, Donnie Barganski and Ethan Taylor both came through on the offensive line and Darrion Ricks gave us some valuable minutes on the D-line.
“Connor also had to step in and play linebacker when Kirk went down with an injury; I was really proud.”
Taylor amassed 12 tackles and Billy Merritt played lights out all night — his punting helped pin the Panthers several times, and he wreaked havoc in the backfield to get 8 tackles and a sack. Noah Altal and Atlee Roberts also had tackles for loss and combined for 12 take-downs.
It only took Rivercrest three plays into the second half to take the lead. Grider stepped back and hit English near midfield for a 39-yard touchdown pass. Young’s kick was straight and true which made the score 21-14. Young continues to impress with his leg.
The freshman remains perfect through district and is an absolute weapon, especially in 2A football.
The Panthers answered back after a few big rushing plays by Ryan Jackson; Boedy Baker, the 6’4 stout
running back, gashed through the line and scored Alba-Golden’s last touchdown of the night. The point after was blocked by Bivens and the tide turned quickly for Rivercrest.
In a clock-eating ten play series, the Rebels marched down the field to the goal line. However, a holding call followed by a couple of personal fouls moved the Rebels back to mid-field.
Fired up after being moved back so far, Grider launched a 40-yard missile to Lane who caught the ball and toted the ball the final 10 yards to paydirt.
The next several minutes seemed to be a “Flag Day Parade” as yellow flags flew on almost every play against both teams.
The Panthers were on the precipice of scoring again, but Bivins read the roll-out pass all the way and intercepted the ball in the endzone. Rivercrest put the lid on the game in the next few downs when Grider hit Lane again for a 67-yard touchdown.
“My first touchdown tonight, the corner was going to make the play but I outmuscled him. The second touchdown, I was wide open and all I could think to myself was “don’t drop the ball,” Lane said with a laugh.
Rivercrest racked up 270 yards in the air with five different receivers notching catches. Grider was 12/16 with a total of 4 passing touchdowns. Lane led the receivers’ pen with 120 yards and 2 touchdowns while English added 69 yards and a touchdown and Randolph had 67 yards and a score.
“My receivers do a great job of catching the ball and extending plays,” Grider said with a smile. “That’s one of the reasons I’m so hard on myself when I make a bad throw because I know if I can get the ball in their hands, then they’ll make the plays.”
By the end of the game, Rivercrest had five of their main starters having to watch from the sidelines and cheer on the team.
“Our seniors were great tonight,” Connot said. “Through all the adversity, they continued to pick each other up and stay positive. I’m proud of how those guys handled themselves and our team when things were not going our way.”
Thankfully, the Rebels have a much-needed bye week coming up and time to heal some injuries.
District 6-2A is hoping to get all its games in despite several schools battling quarantine. The adjusted schedule means some of the teams will have to play every 5-6 days, but the coaches bought themselves an extra week when they started early.