GAINESVILLE — Coming into the season, many Riverside Military Academy football fans would have been happy just to reach the playoffs.
After all, the Eagles had a brand new coaching staff and returned just five starters -- none of them named Carl Robinson, the star tailback who graduated in 2007 after rushing for over 8,000 yards during his illustrious career.
But that didn’t make Friday night’s 28-19 loss to Pinewood Christian Academy in the first round of the Georgia Independent Schools Association any easier to take.
"This is one of those lessons in life that you have to learn," Riverside coach Chris Lancaster said.
"I’m very proud of the kids. They played hard, and they did a great job."
Just as they had all season, the Eagles (6-5) battled throughout Friday night’s contest, even taking a 13-7 lead in the second quarter. But Riverside couldn’t contain Pinewood Christian’s (9-2) potent ground attack – giving up 302 yards and three touchdowns to the visitors. Meanwhile, Pinewood’s defense held the Eagles to just 109 yards on the ground.
"We knew we’d have a hard time running on them," Lancaster said.
"(Senior tailback) Tersoo Uhaa has done a great job for us all season, but they focused on him all night and forced us to be one dimensional."
Riverside quarterback Bill Dearybury picked up the slack for the Eagles offense, completing 19 passes for 245 yards. But Riverside couldn’t manufacture a big play when it needed it late, turning the ball over twice inside the final five minutes to seal the outcome.
"We made some mistakes tonight," Lancaster said. "They made some mistakes too; we just couldn’t capitalize on those like we wanted to."
Though the Eagles forced three Pinewood turnovers, they only converted one of those errors into a touchdown – taking advantage of quarterback Trent Sikes’ fumble to grab a 13-7 advantage when Dearybury found Conner Cuevas on a 5-yard scoring strike with 6:35 left in the first half.
The score swung the momentum completely in Riverside’s favor – after Uhaa’s 15-yard touchdown run with 10:28 left in the quarter had already knotted the score at 7-7.
But after forcing a turnover on downs from Pinewood and taking over at their own 15 with just a minute left in the half, the Eagles began to lose control.
Unable to grind out a first down, Riverside punted and watched as Pinewood used a 42-yard scoring strike from Sikes to receiver Will Jarriel to knot the score at 13-13 with just 14 seconds left in the half.
The Eagles missed another opportunity at the start of the second half, when D. Osegueda-Weiner recovered a Pinewood fumble at the Patriots’ 27. Though Uhaa picked up a first down at the Pinewood 15, Riverside settled for a 31-yard field goal attempt, only to see it blocked.
Taking over at their own 20, the Patriots responded with an 80-yard scoring march, capped by Lane Miller’s 30-yard touchdown run for a 21-13 lead.
Riverside responded, using a 1-yard scoring plunge from Toby McClure to pull within 21-19 with 10 minutes left to play, but Dearybury’s two-point coversion attempt fell incomplete.
Pinewood then iced the game on Brandon Oliver’s 3-yard touchdown run with 3:17 remaining.
"Pinewood’s got some fine young men on their team," Lancaster said. "They’re a very good team."
Yet Lancaster feels his Eagles also developed into a good team during the 2007 campaign, overcoming some midseason struggles to finish strong. And though he graduates some of his better players – including Dearybury, Uhaa and Cuevas – he feels they have laid a foundation for success. "We will have some obstacles to overcome, but we’re going to work hard, and we learned a lot this season."