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Tigers 50, Eagles 14
Difference maker: Tigers sophomore running back Jaquavious Blackburn ran for 238 first-half yards and a pair of 74-yard, second-quarter touchdowns.
Stat that matters: Washington-Wilkes averaged 10.5 yards per run attempt.
Turning point: Jalen Turner hauled in a 32-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Deandre Harris late in the first quarter to put Washington-Wilkes ahead 15-0.
Who’s next: Riverside Military plays host to Oglethorpe County on Friday at Maginnis Field.
When Riverside Military Academy had a chance to finish a drive with a touchdown early in Friday’s Region 8-AA opener against Washington-Wilkes at Maginnis Field, Eagles coach Gary Downs knew he wanted to roll the dice.
That’s why, facing a fourth-and-16 at the Tigers (4-0, 1-0 Region 8-AA) 32 on the game’s opening drive, Downs decided to keep the offense on the field. Although the pass from Eagles quarterback Collin Pettell was on target to his receiver in the end zone, it was broken up by a defender.
After that, No. 6 Washington-Wilkes’ offense took control. The Tigers scored twice on offense and again on a fumble return for a touchdown by D.J. Binns, all in the first quarter, to win 50-14 in Gainesville.
“We have to learn how to make the big plays,” said Downs. “You’re not going to have that many opportunities against a team as talented as Washington-Wilkes and we didn’t make them tonight.
“The game could have been a lot closer if we made that play.”
Given the long yardage Riverside (1-2, 0-1) needed on its opening drive, Washington-Wilkes coach Robby Robinson was surprised the Eagles coach decided to go for it rather that to go for a pooch kick or attempt a long field goal after Riverside moved the ball rather efficiently down field.
When Pettell dropped back for the pass on fourth down, he had an open receiver in the end zone who appeared to catch it in the air, but had the ball stripped by a Washington-Wilkes defender before he got two feet down.
“I was surprised that they went for it, but realized Riverside was trying to capitalize on having the momentum,” Robinson said.
Washington-Wilkes had no trouble converting on scoring opportunities. The Tigers scored touchdowns on five of six first-half offensive possessions.
Tigers sophomore quarterback Deandre Harris punched it into the end zone with a 17-yard run on a fourth-and-short situation midway through the first quarter, then hit wide receiver Jalen Turner on a 32-yard touchdown pass with 1:29 left in the opening quarter. One play after the ensuing kickoff, Riverside Military fumbled and Tigers junior defensive back D.J. Binns picked it up and ran down the sideline 22 yards for the score. The Eagles finished the game with three turnovers.
Already holding a 22-0 lead, Washington-Wilkes sophomore running back Jaquavious Blackburn put the game away in the second quarter with his ability to get to the edge with the ball, thanks to tremendous speed, and broke off a pair of 74-yard touchdowns.
Six of his 13 runs went for at least 10 yards. Blackburn finished the game with 238 yards, all in the first half.
“(Blackburn) is a tremendous runner,” Downs said. “He’s patient and waits for the play to develop.
“I feel like Washington-Wilkes is probably the most talented team in our region.”
Riverside Military scored both of its touchdowns in the fourth quarter. JeJuan McCalston had a 28-yard touchdown catch from Pettell with seven minutes left in the game, then Raleigh Beougher ran it in from the 9 for the Eagles with 1:37 left in the game.
Joseph Garuba finished with a team-high 20 carries for 96 yards for the Eagles, which host Oglethorpe County on Friday at Maginnis Field.