Lakeview Academy needed a small miracle Friday night to stage an improbable comeback against Riverside Military Academy, and that’s exactly what it got.
After going down by two scores with less than five minutes remaining, the Lions returned a kickoff 80 yards, recovered an onside kick that led to a lead-taking score and blocked a last-second field goal attempt to secure a 21-20 victory — Lakeview Academy’s first of the season.
“I’m speechless,” Lions coach Matthew Gruhn Said. “Unbelievable. We played the best we’ve played. We beat a really good team. It’s just unbelievable.”
Riverside Military took a 14-0 lead going into halftime when quarterback Dylan Spinks hit Adriel Clark for a 25-yard score with less than a minute to play in the second quarter. The Lions (1-5, 1-2 Region 8-A) moved the ball well at times in the opening 24 minutes, but failed to convert a first and goal from the 1-yard line into any points, resulting in a zero on the scoreboard.
The second half was a different matter entirely.
After sacking and stripping Riverside Military Academy (5-3, 2-1 Region 8-A) quarterback Shad Dabney for a fumble recovery on the Eagles first drive of the third quarter, Lakeview Academy quarterback Ben Puckett connected with Jordan Thomas for a 14-yard passing touchdown.
Riverside Military scored on another pass to Clark late in the fourth quarter, but Puckett returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to the Eagles 10-yard line. He scored a rushing touchdown from 7 yards out three plays later to cut the Eagles lead to 20-14.
The Lions then attempted an onside kick, and received a favorable bounce to recover with four minutes left to play. Puckett once again led the way on the drive with rushes of 8, 9 and 13 yards — the last of which going for the lead-taking touchdown.
Spinks connected on a 52-yard pass on a desperation heave to Clark down the sideline to get Riverside Military in range of a makeable field goal, but the attempt was blocked by the Lions’ Sam Perrott rushing off the left side, ending the game.
“I don’t know what it means,” Gruhn said of the win. “I hope it means a lot of great things. But I know what we’ve been through and how hard we’ve worked. We’re going to enjoy the heck out of it.”
BEN PUCKETT’S BIG DAY
The Lions needed a spark trailing by two scores at halftime, and Puckett obliged, with gusto.
Puckett completed just 2 of his 11 pass attempts for 18 yards and a touchdown, but he added 21 rushes for 94 yards and a pair of scores, and it was the timeliness of his plays that mattered most.
His big kick return late in the fourth quarter gave Lakeview Academy life when it appeared all was lost, and he picked up a pair of fourth-down conversions on the ground on the Lions’ final drive before scoring the game-winning touchdown.
Though Puckett was the hero on the stat sheet, he gave his supporting cast full credit for every yard he produced Friday night.
“I can’t do anything without my line,” he said. “They’re working their tails off. They did great.”
SPECIAL ON SPECIAL TEAMS
While many scoff at the notion that special teams can be just as important as offense or defense, it was clearly the case in this game.
On back-to-back plays in the fourth quarter, Riverside Military missed an extra point and then allowed a huge return that let the Lions back into the game. A few plays later, Bodie Blackwell’s onside kick took just the right bounce for Lakeview Academy to have a chance at a recovery.
A blocked field goal to seal the game was the bow on top of a near perfect day of special teams execution that was truly the difference in the tight contest.
“It was awesome,” Gruhn said. “We were actually really worried about special teams, because they’ve got some really good guys that can go at any play. They can score on any play. That was very nerve wracking to end it, but we just executed. Unbelievable.”
ADRIEL CLARK CONTINUES TO SHINE
Among the positives from the game for Riverside Military was the continued emergence of wide receiver Adriel Clark.
Clark had caught at least one touchdown in each of the Eagles last four games coming into the contest, and he kept the streak going against the Lions. He scored on a 25-yard strike right before the end of the first half, then again toward the end of the fourth quarter from 12 yards out.
His catch for 52 yards over a pair of Lakeview Academy defenders in the contest’s final seconds gave the Eagles a chance at the win. He finished the game with seven catches for 149 yards and the two touchdowns.
“I think he’s done really, really well,” Riverside Military coach Nick Garrett said of Clark. “He’s made some big plays for us. But we need more than just one. We need all 11 guys to execute on a very high level.”