DAWSONVILLE — Riverside Military Academy coach Chris Lancaster could appreciate the significance of its 33-0 win over Dawson County just as much, maybe even more, than his players. Lancaster, also a graduate of RMA, understands the rocky road the program has faced in its football history.
That’s why Friday’s victory could be celebrated for the first-year coach of the Eagles, who returned to coach his alma mater after a lengthy college coaching career.
With the win, Riverside (7-3, 6-3 Region 8-AA) is poised to make its first trip to the GHSA state playoffs in the program’s history. The Eagles will play against No. 2 seed Pepperell (9-1, 5-0 Region 7-AA) next Friday in Lindale.
"To come back home to my alma mater and take a team with a great coaching staff and a great group of kids and to get this, who would have ever thought this?," Lancaster said. "It’s priceless.
"It means so dear much to me, the administration at Riverside and to all the cadets, and to get our program into the playoffs is truly special."
New cadets and veteran cadets alike took time to soak up the moment afterward to think about how much it means to this school of boarding students from vastly different hometowns and backgrounds.
Riverside senior linebacker Diego Osegueada-Weiner is one of the few players remaining from the schools 2005 Georgia Independent School Association Class AAA state title. He said it’s a big deal to have a memory that the school will be able to remember for years to come.
"This is a big deal to make the playoffs in our first season back in the GHSA," Osegueda-Weiner said. "We’ve pushed for this all season, but really didn’t know what was going to happen with all the new competition we were going to go against."
First-year junior quarterback Lucas Bersin can also appreciate the bonding experience of joining a program with a bunch of players the first week of class, then stepping in to lead the Eagles to the postseason.
"This is a big deal for our program and something that really unifies us," said Bersin, who passed for 270 yards and two touchdowns. "We live together, eat together, practice together and I know that I can count on these guys."
The Eagles left little doubt they belonged back in the playoffs after coming out on top in what amounted to a must-win situation against Dawson County (3-7, 2-7). Riverside put together a balanced running game, strong vertical threat led by Bersin’s arm, and held the Tigers to only 195 yards of total offense.
Riverside junior running back Julian Suber found a way to loosen up the Tigers defense early with a 2-yard touchdown and 102 yards in the first quarter. He finished the game with 27 carries for 167 yards and two rushing touchdowns, and now stands at 1,662 yards for the season.
Suber didn’t just make his presence known on offense. He also scored on a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown in the final minute of the game.
Suber’s ability to run and find the open lanes opened up Riverside’s passing game. Bersin picked the Tigers’ defense apart, primarily with short throws that turned into long gains. Riverside’s quarterback finished with 14 completions for 270 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Kyle Glennon, a senior, had both touchdown catches for the Eagles and finished the game with 130 receiving yards. The senior wide receiver’s most impressive reception was his first touchdown catch when he ran over a Dawson County defender after the catch to complete the 30-yard touchdown play. That score extended the Eagles’ lead to 13-0 with 6:08 left to play in the first half.
With this impressive win under Riverside’s belt, Lancaster hopes that momentum can carry over into the playoffs against Class AA’s second-ranked Dragons.
"I hope we’re not one-hit wonders," Lancaster said. "We’re going to keep going to work and keep chopping wood."
Dawson County’s season is now complete.