Following a script it has been using all season, Riverside scored early and often while putting a defensive lockdown on host Ridgemont, the Pirates improving to 5-0 on the year with a 60-6 pasting of the Golden Gophers Sept. 25.
The 5-0 start for Riverside is its best in 20 years, having last opened the season with five straight wins in 1995, a year they went a perfect 10-0 in regular season play and made it to the OHSAA playoffs. The Pirates improve to 2-0 in the Northwest Central Conference, while the Golden Gophers fall to 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the NWCC.
Riverside removed all doubt about the outcome of the game in the first half, dropping 20 points on the hosts in the opening quarter, then scoring another 26 points in the second. But it was the ironclad defense that stole the show for the Pirates, as the ‘D’ allowed the hosts a scant 163 total yards from scrimmage, holding the Gophers to just 58 rushing yards and 105 yards via the pass for the game.
Aside from sitting atop the NWCC standings, Riverside is blowing away the field in terms of production, having scored 205 points in five games (40.1 ppg), which is 60 points better than its nearest competitor, Upper Scioto Valley (also 2-0 in conference play). Connor Cotterman leads the league in rushing with 638 yards while he and backfield mate Hayden Robinson have combined to score a total of 163 points, which is more than any other NWCC team has scored this season.
As impressive as the offense is, the defense may have had an even better first half of the season. Riverside has allowed a total of just 34 points in five games (6.8 ppg.) and the defense has scored five touchdowns, just missing a sixth when Shawn Crawford returned an interception 72 yards to the opponents’ one-yard line (he got even the following week with a 93-yard pick-six). In the season opener, the Pirates gave up a first half touchdown to Arcanum; no team has scored against Riverside in the first two quarters of any game since.
Despite the impressive numbers on both sides of the ball, head coach Tim McGill thinks his team has a lot of room for improvement.
“I’d give them a ‘B’ minus (for the first half of the season),” McGill said of his team this past weekend. “To move that grade up, we have been focusing on the little things. We are playing hard and with great effort, but really good football teams do the little things correctly, like making sure your feet are in good position when you get in a stance, and is your helmet on the inside or outside of the opposing player like it should be. Little things count the most. The big things take care of themselves.”
From here on out, Riverside will face nothing but NWCC opponents in the regular season, with four of its last five games being played on the Pirates’ home turf in DeGraff. Next up for the Pirates will be Sidney Lehman Friday, Oct. 2.
Lehman is coming off its first conference win of the season, a 28-25 nail biter at Lima Perry Sept. 27. The Cavaliers (2-3 overall, 1-1 NWCC) scored a touchdown with less than 30 seconds left to play against the Commodores to snag the victory.
Tom Stephens is a regular contributor to this newspaper.