The Rivercrest Rebels’ season came to an abrupt halt Friday night in the 2A Region 2 area championship game in Grand Prairie. The seventh-ranked Crawford Pirates launched an all-out assault to shut the Rebels down early and cruise to a 44-6 victory.
Crawford showed up with a huge roster and a pocketful of trick plays to keep the odds in their favor, and Rivercrest has not encountered an “old school” offense like the Pirates ran so far this season. From under center, the Pirate quarterback used some talented backs to gain chunks of yards, and he mixed in just enough passes to keep the Rebs off-balance.
“They were a power-run offense, using a two-back backfield sets and one and two tight end formations with some pro slot,” head coach Lance Connot said after the game. “We did a good job early on being physical against their run game and closing down the gaps. We gave up some on the screen and some untimely deep balls.”
Crawford faced a fourth and 7 on their opening drive but quarterback Tanner Merenda found Luke Torbert on the right sideline to put the first score on the board and take the lead 8 - 0.
The Rebels answered back with a huge 41-yard catch by Chris Randolph as he wormed his way through two defenders. Luck would not be with the Rebels’ side though as running back Connor Young took a hard blow to the helmet which sidelined him for most of the rest of the game.
Rivercrest suffered the loss of starting running back Zane Dees earlier in the season so these circumstances forced Eli Bivins to step into the backfield. A costly holding penalty and an overthrown pass gave the ball back to the Pirates.
Defensive coordinator Rick Connot rallied his troops to dig in. Atlee Roberts, Bradyn English and Carson Whitley answered the call, and Whitley forced the three-and-out with a huge sack in the backfield.
The Rebels moved the ball into Pirate territory again but stalled out after another holding call and missed connection between quarterback Will Grider and English.
Crawford hit paydirt as Merenda linked up with Garrett Pearson, who tiptoed down the right sideline to make the score 15-0. The Pirates forced another punt and the snap went above punter Billy Merritt’s head for a safety bringing the score 17 - 0. Rivercrest was consistently stopped at the line of scrimmage and gained no traction on their normally successful screen passes.
The Pirates raided the Rebel backfield on almost every play as they blitzed from the corners to flush Grider out of the pocket. Rivercrest found some success in the downfield pass game. Grider hit English for a phenomenal one-handed, 30-yard catch on the far sideline. He also connected with Zachariah Lane for a toe-dragging 40-yard pass to get the Rebs in Pirate territory.
Grider took the snap and followed lead blockers Randolph and English through the right side of the field to the end zone and kept the Rebs from being shut out.
Bivins notched another interception and Whitley recovered a fumble. Roberts had several chase downs in the backfield for tackles for loss. Meritt had another successful night pinning the Pirates deep on his punts.
“We just had a difficult time slowing down the pass rush. They did a good job covering us and we just couldn’t seem to get in rhythm,” Connot said. “I was proud of the way our kids fought until the end. This was a fun group of young men to coach.”
With the season’s end, Rivercrest says farewell to nine seniors who have gone 25-9 in the last three years and added two bi-district titles and one area championship to the trophy case at Rivercrest High School.
In the end, it’s all about great memories and a brotherhood that were forged on long, hot days in August and crisp, cool nights in November.
Connot reiterated how proud he was of the boys and added, “Throughout the ups and downs of our football season, they continued to have great attitudes and work ethic. They always did everything they could to try and be successful.”
“I enjoyed every day of it. I loved getting to be a part of this program and hope I leave a good legacy for the young ones,” senior University of Arkansas commit Cole Carson said with a big grin the following morning.
Crawford will move on to the regional quarterfinals and will face Alvord next week.