Riverside Military Academy's 37-20 win against Union County on Friday night was important on a number of levels.
First of all, it assured the Eagles' seniors in a win in their final game played at Maginnis Field. It also kept Riverside's playoff hopes alive and well going into the season finale next week at Dawson County (3-6, 2-6).
But most importantly to Eagles coach Chris Lancaster, it assured the school's first undefeated regular season in home games in GHSA play. He said reaching that goal plays right into their theme of "Defend the Castle."
"We did a good job at home this season," Lancaster said. "And there's something to be said for that."
Riverside (6-3, 5-3 Region 8-AA) gave the keys to its offense to junior tailback Julian Suber and he didn't disappoint, finishing with 31 carries for 207 yards and three touchdowns. He scored all three touchdowns in the second half, marking the second consecutive week that the converted quarterback has crossed the 200-yard mark.
"I thought we did a good job slowing him down in the first half," Union County coach Brian Allison said. "But we didn't do as well in the second half."
The win was also made possible by an outstanding defensive performance by the Eagles, who held the spread offense of the Panthers (5-4, 4-4) to 158 yards. Union County was only able to pick up 43 yards on the ground.
Riverside kept pressure on Union's quarterback all night forcing hurried throws, and leading to an interception by Eagles sophomore Joey Lopez.
"They (Union County) were missing their starting quarterback, so they had a little bit of an excuse on that side and they had their best receiver go out early with his kidney bothering him, so that worked to our advantage," Lancaster said. "But their kids hung in there."
Suber really got going in the second half for the Eagles as they marched 60 yards for a touchdown on the first drive of the second half. He had a 20-yard carry that set up his 12-yard touchdown score to extend Riverside's lead to 17-0 with 10:16 left in the third quarter.
On Riverside's next drive he looked even better. Suber pieced together runs of 14, 20, 12, 7 and a 13-yard touchdown run on a drive that only ate 1:02 off the third quarter clock.
His final touchdown run was from the 5 in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles also took advantage of sloppy special teams work by the Panthers. Union County fumbled a Riverside punt on its own 5. Kyle Glennon scored on the next play for the Eagles on a 3-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Lucas Bersin.
Ahamd Chehab added a 45-yard field goal for Riverside on the final play of the first half to extend the lead to 10-0.
Wesley Adams led Union with 50 yards rushing. He scored on runs from the 5 and the 2 in the fourth quarter to narrow the final margin.
Union quarterback Jesse Wright finished 15-of-26 passing for 116 yards. He scored on a 1-yard run in the third quarter.
One of the biggest negatives for the Eagles on the night was the penalties, 10 flags for 105 yards in all. The most costly was a personal foul called against starting defensive back Victor Frick, which resulted in his ejection. He will have to sit out next week's game against the Tigers.
"I was not happy with our character tonight," Lancaster said. "We had some late hits and personal fouls.
"The ejection is going to cost us next week."
Riverside Military visits Dawson County at 7:30 p.m. next Friday in Dawsonville. Union County plays host to Banks County next Friday in Blairsville.