Johnson’s football players posed for an impromptu celebratory shot together, while Knights coach Jason Roquemore was bopping around the field after Friday’s game against Riverside Military Academy at Maginnis Field in Gainesville.
While it may have been a nonregion victory in a season where the postseason is not a possibility, the Knights’ 16-7 victory against a steady Eagles defense was plenty to get excited about.
It was Johnson’s (1-5) first victory of the season after struggling to find consistent offensive production through the first five games.
“Here’s the thing, the way we’re playing hasn’t been the issue,” Roquemore said after the win.
“We’ve been victimized by penalties in the red zone and giving up the big plays this season.
“This win is a credit to our players and the things we believe in as a program.”
Even though it was a slow start to the season for Johnson, Roquemore dismissed the idea that his program needed a win for a morale boost. Knights players huddling together and smiling for a celebratory photo validated that point well.
“Words can’t express how much this win means,” said Johnson running back Jesse Griggs, who toted the ball 27 times for 97 yards. “We talk about being a family on this team, and we played our heart our for each other tonight.”
Griggs gets big credit for Johnson’s victory, picking up the tough yards between the tackles almost every time he carried the ball. Roquemore felt that if they continued to get the ball in Griggs’ hands, 3-and 4- yard gains in the first half would turn into 6-and 7-yard gains in the second half.
In the fourth quarter, Johnson started to wear down Riverside’s defense. The Knights took advantage of three flags against the Eagles (1-3) defense, which shortened the field by 30 yards. Griggs punched it into the end zone from the 10, giving the game-clinching touchdown midway through the final period.
Griggs also picked up 2 yards on a fourth-down pay early in the drive to move the chains. Riverside drew penalties for a personal foul, late hit and illegal motion on the Johnson touchdown drive.
“I thought our defense did play well tonight, we just had all kinds of penalties,” Riverside coach Gary Downs said. “We knew Johnson was going to come in here and run the ball right at us, and that’s exactly what they did.”
Griggs finished the game with 27 of Johnson’s 42 running attempts. Roquemore said the effectiveness of the ground game was a credit to the play up front.
“Our offensive line did a great job for us tonight,” Roquemore said.
Leading 9-7 late in the third quarter, Johnson kept the momentum after recovering a fumble by Riverside’s quarterback. The Knights also recovered an onside kick after Grigg’s fourth-quarter score to further milk the clock.
For the night, Riverside was flagged nine times for 90 yards. Johnson drew nine penalties for 75 yards.
After trailing 7-0 early, Johnson scored first on Isaac Henry’s 25-yard field goal early in the second quarter. Late in the third quarter, the Knights completed their only pass, a throw from Chase Sims to Orion Pittman that went for a 46-yard touchdown, to take a 9-7 lead after a failed two-point conversion.
It was the biggest play of the night for the Knights, which finished with 169 yards of offense. Riverside was led by Hunter Sims’ 89 passing yards, and finished the game with a team-total of 150 yards.
Riverside scored early with Hunter Sims’ pass to Tarik Holmes, which went for a 69-yard touchdown. Sims was Riverside’s leading rusher with nine carries for 32 yards.
On Friday, Riverside visits Strong Rock Christian in Locust Grove; Johnson hosts Osborne on Oct. 10 following a bye.