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Riverside's second-half surge tops Fannin, 20-17
Eagles stay in playoff hunt in Region 8-AA with key home win
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Riverside Military Academy’s postseason hopes are still alive.

The Eagles rebounded from an early deficit with two second-half touchdowns and defeated Fannin County 20-17 on Friday night at Maginnis Field.

The win, which snaps a three-game losing skid, keeps Riverside (3-4, 3-3 Region 8-AA) in contention for the fourth and final playoff spot in the region.

"This feels great to get this win," Riverside senior Aaron Gambrah said. "Even though we fell behind, we played assignment football and stayed together to get the win.

"I feel like we still have a good shot to make the playoffs."

The Eagles are making the late push for the region’s fourth playoff spot since Jefferson (7-0, 6-0), East Jackson and North Oconee all have a commanding lead for the top three spots.

Riverside’s three losses during its losing streak came to those three teams. The Eagles are trying to muscle past Union County, Banks County and the Rebels for the final playoff spot.

Still, Riverside has a chance to make the postseason for the second time in as many seasons since rejoining the GHSA thanks to a couple big second half plays on offense and solid defense late against Fannin County (3-4, 2-4).

The biggest play of the second half came when Brandon McKinney caught a pass over the middle of the field from senior quarterback Lucas Bersin and battled through a couple of Rebels defenders for a 52-yard touchdown reception.

Meanwhile, the Eagle defense completely stuffed Fannin County’s offense in the second half, limiting the Rebels to only three second-half first downs.

"This win was a huge emotional lift for our team," Eagles coach Scot Sloan said. "I told our team that this right here is a playoff game tonight and to leave it all out on the field."

Following McKinney’s touchdown reception, Riverside scored the eventual winning score early in the fourth quarter when Gambrah scored on a run from the 5. The Eagles set up the go-ahead score with steady running from senior Cole Tudor, a 10-yard run from Bersin and a key reception of 18 yards on a third-and-8.

Bersin, who started at quarterback as a junior for Riverside in 2008, came in started at quarterback for Riverside and played the entire game after being used mostly as a linebacker and on special teams this season. He finished the game with four pass completions for 92 yards. Tudor finished with 25 carries for 75 yards.

The Eagles succeeded defensively in the second half by taking away Fannin’s running game in its triple-option attack, which was primarily the keeper by quarterback Nick Dean and the pitch to running back Blake Henry.

In the first half, it was a completely different story with Fannin running without too much resistance.

The Rebels jumped to a 10-6 lead in the second quarter, when on a third-and-1, Dean found an open lane and went untouched for a 51-yard touchdown. On the next drive, Dean found wide receiver Jamey Taylor for an 11-yard touchdown pass to extend the Rebels’ lead to 17-6. Dean set up Fannin’s second touchdown drive of the quarter when he picked off a Riverside pass and returned it to the Eagles’ 40.

Dean finished the game with a touchdown run, touchdown pass and two interceptions, all in the first half.

Riverside travels to Oglethorpe County and Fannin County plays host to Banks County next Friday.

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