Though Riverside Military Academy’s defense allowed fewer points to Glascock County than to any other opponent all season, the Eagles came up short 22-13 on Friday night at Maginnis Field.
“We never gave up the big play to (Glascock County), but they were able to eat up the clock and our defense couldn’t get the ball back,” Riverside coach Gary Downs said.
The Panthers put together two scoring drives totaling more than 17 minutes in time of possession, which gave the Eagles’ offense significantly less time to respond.
Glascock County (2-6) attempted an onside kick on the game’s first kickoff. It gave Riverside good starting field position, but the Panthers’ defense forced the Eagles into a three-and-out.
On their ensuing possession, Glascock County used a 12-yard touchdown run by A.J. Sammons with 7:31 in the first quarter to take the lead. After a successful two-point conversion, the Panthers led 8-0.
Again the Glascock County was unable to recover an onside kick, which gave the Eagles the ball at their 45. But the Glascock defense forced another three-an-out.
It appeared as if the Eagles (1-7, 1-4 Region 8-AA) would have trouble moving the ball all night long before they were able to put together a nine-play drive, finished by Stephen Weschler’s 1-yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown and bringing Riverside within one point, 8-7.
The Panthers responded with a 23-play, eight minute scoring drive, capped by a 3-yard Sammons’ touchdown run.
“We came into the game knowing what they were going to do, but we don’t have the strength right now to slow them down.” Downs said. “A couple of times we had guys stopped behind the line, and they were able to break a couple of tackles or move the pile.”
Sammons finished the night as the game’s leading rusher with 133 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
“It was all the blockers because I would have done nothing without them,” Sammons said. “Coach (Chris) Kelley told me to run with vision and follow my blockers.”
“Having a night like (Sammons) did is a by-product of our entire team’s effort,” Kelley said. “We usually try to play a lot of kids because we don’t have any true superstars, just gritty guys.”
After a third quarter touchdown by the Panthers, Riverside’s Elijah Holyfield scored on an 11-yard run with 8:55. It left the Eagles down 22-13 in the fourth quarter. Unable to convert on the extra point, Riverside remained down two scoring possessions.
The Eagles forced a punt and get the ball back at the 6:15 mark.
However, Colin Pettell’s pass to Justin Sweeting came up short on a fourth down conversion attempt, and the Panthers used their running game to gain first downs until the clock expired.
Downs said that his squad has improved this season and will continue to do so.
“Riverside only had 34 total rushing yards all last season. At this point in the season we have at least 1,200.” Downs said. “We just did not have the broken tackles this game because we have to get stronger.”
“Our guys have increased their strength by 25 percent, but that is something that is built over time. They have only been in a weight program since school started, and they didn’t have one at all last season.”
Some of the Eagles’ offensive struggles have come from having to learn a new offensive system in the middle of the season. Knowing he wanted to use the run game as a form of ball control, Downs primarily used the Wing-T at the beginning of the season.
As the season has worn on and the first-year coach gets to know his team better, Riverside has shifted to using its speed in more of a spread offense look.
“We do not have the strength to do what they did tonight and gain first downs by running up the middle,” Downs said. “We have to take better advantage of our athletes and get them in space, but they stopped our outside run game tonight.
Riverside gained 99 yards rushing on 32 attempts, while the Panthers rushed for 307 yards on 63 carries.
The Eagles visit Jefferson on Friday.