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Game of the Week: Riverside Military vs. Union County
Riverside Military defensive back Sage Jordan intercepts a pass against Georgia Military College earlier this season at Maginnis Field in Gainesville. - photo by Jared Putnam

High school football previews: Week 8

Union County at Riverside Military

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Maginnis Field, Gainesville

Coaches: Union County, Brian Allison; Riverside Military, Gary Downs

Records: Union County (3-2, 1-1 Region 8-AA); Riverside Military (2-3, 1-2)

Key Players: Union County, OL/DL Luther Jones (6-0, 290 Sr.); RB/LB Chase Barnett (5-11, 190 Jr.); WR/DB Robert Prunier (5-9, 175 Jr.). Riverside Military, LB John-Mark McFarlane (5-10, 190 Sr.); QB Collin Pettell (6-3, 220 Sr.); RB/DB Raleigh Beougher (5-9, 165 Jr.).

In the big picture, Riverside Military’s game against Union County tonight probably won’t go down as a make-or-break moment in the eyes of coach Gary Downs.

He’s already seen enough progress out of the Eagles (2-3, 1-2 Region 8-AA) to know the program is generally headed in the right direction with participation of cadets on campus in the football program, and the skill level he hopes will soon match the other top programs in the region.

“Overall, I’m pleased with where we stand,” said Downs. “We’ve won 2 of the 3 that we should have won to this point.

“We still control our own destiny.”

However, for the Eagles to make the postseason in 2013, their most realistic path starts with beating the Panthers (3-2, 1-1). Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Maginnis Field in Gainesville.

Union County is a pass-based offense is averaging almost 270 yards a game through the air, while rushing for about 110.

The top three in Region 8-AA have shown to be No. 4 Washington-Wilkes (6-0, 3-0), defending state champion and 10th-ranked Jefferson (3-2, 1-1) and Rabun County (5-0, 2-0), who is just on the outside of the top 10.

The fourth spot in the postseason, according to Downs, will come down to Riverside Military, Union County and Greene County (2-3, 1-1), which is in its second year under former Georgia running back Robert Edwards.

“We’re very excited about this game against Union County,” said Eagles junior wide receiver/defensive back C.J. Howard. “We know if we win, we could get in the playoffs at the end of the season.

“If we lose, we could still make it to the playoffs too, but likely would be sitting at home.”

Harrison Summerour, a senior two-way starter and battalion commander for the student body, says this season has already produced a turning point in the program. Players are excited about the energy that Downs brings to the practice field every day.

And the rest of the student body has shown its overwhelming support for the Eagles football team, according to Summerour.

Riverside Military has already matched its win total from 2012, and the program last made the playoffs in 2009.

“To be a part of the turning point in the program means a lot to me,” said Summerour, who is from Dawsonville.

Riverside Military will likely play the remainder of the season without its starting tailback Joseph Garuba, who sustained a leg injury in its win against Oglethorpe County two weeks ago. In his place, Downs has played sophomore Cory Tidwell and junior Mahlik Faulk.

Riverside Military has seen improvement in the passing game under senior Collin Pettell (445 yards, two touchdowns, 67-percent completion rate).

For the Eagles, both Howard (nine receptions, 198 yards) and junior running back Raleigh Beougher (19 catches, 284 yards) have both gone over 100 yards in a single game this season.

“We’ve had more explosive plays on offense this year,” Downs said.

One test for Downs was bouncing back after a 63-7 loss at Rabun County last week. Riverside’s coach says that the response Monday in practice was positive, knowing it would have to slow a Panthers offense which likes to spread the field out and throw the ball.

“It’s always good to come back to practice, win or lose, because it’s a new week to get better,” said Summerour.

For the Panthers, the leading receivers are Jacob Rogers (28 catches, 466 yards) and Robert Prunier (28, 423 yards. On defense, Union County is led by Chase Barnett (69 tackles) and Chase Stancil (33 stops, 2 tackles for a loss).