Having clinched a playoff spot in the OHSAA football tournament following a blowout win over Waynesfield-Goshen in Week 9, the Riverside Pirates could have kicked up their feet and taken it easy in the regular season finale against Hardin Northern Oct. 30.
The Pirates dropped 10 touchdowns and gained just under 500 total yards from scrimmage on the visiting Polar Bears, posting a 66-34 win that earned the winners not only a share of the Northwest Central Conference title, but vaulted them into the #4 slot in the OHSAA Div. VII, Region 26 computer rankings. A #4 ranking means that Riverside will be hosting a playoff football game in DeGraff on Friday, Nov. 6, welcoming the Ada Bulldogs to Logan County for the tourney opener.
Talk about your turnarounds. Four years ago, the Riverside football program was in deep trouble, with small class sizes and a lack of overall interest almost causing the program to fold.
But in three short years since Tim McGill took over the reins of the Pirate football program, the Pirates have gone from NWCC doormat to the top of the heap, the only blemish on their record this season coming at the hands of conference-rival Sidney Lehman. Riverside finishes the regular season with a sparkling 9-1 record overall and a 6-1 mark in the NWCC, a conference record that was equaled by Ft. Loramie, the Redskins’ only league loss coming courtesy of the Pirates in Week 4.
It was more of the same for Riverside against Hardin Northern, as Connor Cotterman ran wild for 221 yards and three touchdowns on just 11 carries. Hayden Robinson added another 228 yards and a TD on just seven carries for a ridiculous 32.6 yards per carry. Throw in another four rushing touchdowns and two scoring passes from Trey Helmlinger to Shane Crawford and Hank Harshbarger and you have the makings of a good old-fashioned blowout.
Hardin Northern has to be given credit, however, as it scored more points in the first quarter (14) than six of Riverside’s opponents did for an entire game. The Polar Bears’ 34 points were by far the most the Pirates have given up in any game this season, the only other team to score as many as 20 points in a game being Lehman, which dropped 26 on the Pirates.
The Week 11 appearance marks the first time in a decade that Riverside has made it to the OHSAA football tournament, the Pirates last earning a berth in 2005.
Despite several appearances in the OHSAA football tournament over the years, Riverside has never won a playoff game. That has not lessened the enthusiasm of the Pirate faithful, however.
“I got a lot of (congratulatory) texts Friday night and all day Saturday,” McGill said with a laugh. “And a lot of people have shaken my hand at the grocery store and the gas station. The community support has been great.”
Tom Stephens is a regular contributor to this newspaper.