After coming within one point of making the OHSAA Div. VII football playoffs in 2014, Riverside is reloading for another run at the postseason this fall, the Pirates football team having last made the tournament in 2005.
It came down to the last play of what turned out to be the last game of the 2014 season for the Pirates. After scoring a touchdown and an extra point in overtime against Fort Loramie, the Redskins scored a TD of their own, then punched it in for a two-point conversion, knocking the Pirates out of the playoff picture with a 22-21 win and taking the spot for themselves.
The Pirates finished the season with a 6-4 overall record and a 3-3 mark in the Northwest Central Conference. Three of the Pirates’ four losses came at the hands of team that reached the playoffs, including the aforementioned Fort Loramie, Sidney Lehman – both NWCC members – and West Liberty-Salem, which made it deep into the Div. V playoffs in 2014.
The Pirates return half of the one-two combination that racked up over 2,000 in total offense for Coach Tim McGill last season as Connor Cotterman returns for his senior year. McGill lost Tanner Lane to graduation.
Cotterman was a 2014 AP All-Southwest Div. VII running back for McGill last season. He rang up a whopping 7.5 yards per carry for the Pirates, toting the ball 155 times and gaining 1165 yards. He also scored 15 touchdowns over the season, running in 14 and catching another. As a kicker, he averaged over three points per outing in helping the Pirates put up over 26 points per game.
McGill has done an admirable job for the Riverside program that only several years ago came close to folding for lack of interest. He has brought them to the point where the Pirates kept up with a powerful West Liberty-Salem squad for two quarters last season and had them one possession away from making the post-season tournament.
McGill wants to keep the program rolling forward this season and seasons beyond, but was quick to point out that he does not expect his team to let Cotterman do all the heavy lifting.
“We believe in the strength of the unit,” McGill said. “While Connor is an excellent running back, we are expecting players like Hayden Robinson, Joey Kaeck, and Peyton Scherer to contribute greatly. Trey Long, Jonny Norris and Hunter Kreglow have been providing great leadership for the players in the o-line group.”
Cotterman and Norris play on both sides of the ball, and McGill is hoping their leadership, combined with the efforts of twins Shane and Shawn Crawford, will shore up the defense.
The all-important quarterback role will filled by junior Trey Helmlinger, a lefty with good speed and a strong arm. McGill praised Helmlinger as an accurate passer and well as a excellent runner, qualities that will help keep defenses from keying on Cotterman.
As far as the Northwest Central Conference goes, McGill said that Lehman and Fort Loramie have been and will continue to be the teams to beat if the Pirates want to bring home the hardware.
Riverside has non-league games at Arcanum Aug. 28 to start the season, and at Arcadia the following week. Four of the Pirates’ last five games – including three against NWCC opponents – will be played in the friendly confines of DeGraff, featuring a Week 9 rematch with Waynesfield-Goshen, which put a huge dent in the Pirates’ computer rankings last season when the Tigers shocked the Pirates, 7-6, at Waynesfield late in the season.
Tom Stephens is a regular contributor to this newspaper.