After five invitations to the OHSAA football playoffs and five first-round failures, Riverside finally put one in the tournament ‘W’ column Nov. 6 by posting a convincing 32-7 win over the Ada Bulldogs in Div. VII, Region 26 action in DeGraff.
The win propels the #4-seed Pirates into the regional semifinals against the top-seeded Minster Wildcats, who were pasting Riverside’s NWCC-rival Ft. Loramie, 37-7, as the Pirates were beating the Bulldogs.
The Pirates, now 10-1 on the year, never trailed the Bulldogs as the hosts took the opening kickoff and did a slow rumble downfield for the first six points of the game, fashioning a nine-play drive that ended with Connor Cotterman scoring on a 15-yard TD run.
But Ada, which closes its season at 6-5, was able to keep the powerful Riverside running game contained for the rest of the first half, keeping them inside the edges and out of the end zone following the initial touchdown. Ada got on the board in the with a 38-yard pass from Trent Jolliff to Blake Ansley in the second, while the Bulldog defense limited the Pirates to two Connor Cotterman field goals, giving Riverside a 12-7 lead going into the locker room.
Riverside opened it to a 19-7 margin with a third quarter when Trent Helmlinger faked the entire Bulldog defense to the right and hit a wide open Hayden Robinson on the left, who blew through two would-be tacklers downfield on his way to a 68-yard score with just over six minutes left in the period.
The Pirates then forced a Bulldog punt and took over on their own five-yard line to open the fourth quarter. As the offense trotted out on the field, Pirate head coach Tim McGill clearly told his players, “We want a ‘time-eating drive’ right here.” McGill and his players must have different ideas about the definition of ‘time-eating drive’ as the Pirates used only two plays and less than one minute to cover the 95 yards. Cotterman broke off a 36-yard rumble to the right on the first handoff and Hayden Robinson sprinted untouched over the left the remaining 59 yards on the second, putting the Pirates up three scores and out of reach. Helmlinger closed the scoring with a one-yard dive for a TD with five minutes left in the game.
The Bulldogs kept firing, but the Riverside secondary was up to it, limiting the Bulldogs to just 169 in total yards for the night and never letting them inside the red zone in the second half. The ‘Dogs were able to make connections on three long passes in the game, including the TD in the first quarter, but were otherwise shutout offensively as the Pirate defense came up big when it counted. Twice Riverside forced a turnover on downs after foiling two critical fourth-down attempts by the Bulldogs, one of which was inside the Pirate five-yard line. Aptly-named Blake Sacks had two sacks for the Pirates, while Gaven Anderson and Hank Harshbarger both had a sack and fumble recovery for the winners
The Riverside offense was carried on the shoulders of Cotterman, who rushed for 212 yard on 31 carries, and Robinson, who had a total of 83 yards on just seven runs.
With the win, the Pirates now jump from the frying pan into the fire with their regional semifinal game against top-seeded and defending Div. VI state champion Minster. The OHSAA announced Sunday afternoon that the game will take place at Sidney Memorial Stadium Friday, Nov. 13. Kick-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Tom Stephens is a regular contributor to this newspaper.