There was a subdued celebration after Fayette County’s 37-27 road win over the Riverdale Raiders Thursday night. The Tigers weren’t pleased with the way they let the Raiders rally late, but there was a more important reason to head to the locker rooms with haste.
“Don’t forget it’s a school night!” one of the assistants reminded the players.
A low-scoring first half gave way to a Tiger surge to build a healthy lead, but Riverdale scored three times late to make it a bit too close for comfort.
“I’m getting too old for this,” joked Fayette County coach Mike Davis.
Clean finish or not, the Tigers got what they came for. At 1-0 in region play, they’ve taken their first step toward a return to the playoffs.
“That’s huge for us to start off 1-0 in the region. It’s so important,” said Davis, who was thankful to beat a talented Raider team. “We’re not taking anything from Riverdale. They’re going to be something to be reckoned with in the future. I’m telling you that now.”
The Raiders were a tough foe throughout the first half. Fayette’s offense started strong on their opening possession. On the first snap, Cory Andrews looked like he was hemmed up in the backfield, but slipped through for 18 yards. He added another 12-yard run deep past midfield, but Riverdale stiffened up and forced a turnover on downs.
They got on the scoreboard first too. Jalen Hughes converted on a 4th and 3 with a 9-yard run, and Avaun Rucker lofted a jump ball to Jaelyn Lay for a 22-yard score. Fayette wanted a flag for a pushoff, but they didn’t get it and the Raiders had a 7-0 lead.
The Tigers had a quick response to take the lead, and they would not relinquish it the rest of the night. Andrews scorched the defense on a simple off-tackle run, finding a seam and sprinting the distance for a 73-yard touchdown. A bad snap on the extra point led quarterback and holder JeKobe Coleman to scramble and hit Shane Leinberger for a two-point conversion and an 8-7 lead.
The defense finished the half strong. Riverdale’s next series ended when Jamal Cook and Karlen Samples teamed up for a tackle in the backfield that led to two straight incompletions with a mile to go for a first down. On the last possession, it looked like Bryan McIver had an interception return for a touchdown, but a personal foul overturned it and sent the game to the half still 8-7.
Riverdale shot themselves in the foot on the opening kickoff of the second half. Twice Aaron Hauck’s kick dribbled out of bounds and twice the Raiders chose to make him re-kick. The third time was the charm as Hauck boomed the deep past the return men who mistakenly thought the ball was not live. Camron Ivey knew better and fought his way through several blockers to pounce on the ball and give his Tigers possession just shy of the goal line.
“That was such a heads up play on the kickoff,” Davis said of Ivey’s move. “That ignited us. It really got us going.”
Andrews punched it in from one yard out on the next play for a 15-7 lead.
The defense dealt the next big blow. Rucker looked for a receiver over the middle, but Evilio Nixon played it perfectly, swatting the ball up in the air. Jaylan Coleman corralled the wounded duck for an interception and possession in Riverdale territory.
A 13-yard Jordan Turner catch and run moved the chains and set the table for a 41-yard Hauck field goal and an 18-7 lead
“Hauck is a strong-legged kid. He tells me every day ‘Coach, I can hit from 50,'” said Davis. “He’s a good one.”
For three quarters, the Raiders did a good job of holding the powerful Jalil Dabney in check. He started wearing the defense down until they crumbled in the fourth quarter. On the Tigers’ first offensive snap of the quarter, he took a handoff up the gut, bounced it outside, shoved a defender away, and tightroped up the sideline for a 45-yard touchdown and a 24-7 lead.
“He’s a workhorse,” said Davis. “Him and Andrews, those two guys are a great 1-2 punch. One’s got power with speed, and the other is a slasher. We’ve got a pretty good deal.”
Riverdale found their way back to the end zone in response, capping off a 65-yard drive with a touchdown pass from Tremain Moore, subbing in at quarterback, to Lay to cut the deficit back down to 10 points.
Dabney turned them away, rumbling for 57 yards on two carries to set up Andrews for a 4-yard touchdown run and a 30-14 lead.
Moore tried a long bomb heave on their next play, but Nixon went up and pulled down the interception, returning it all the way to just outside the red zone. Andrews went untouched for a 26-yard scoring run on the next play for a 37-14 led with under five minutes left to play.
Desperation worked well for the Raiders as they strung together two touchdowns in less than three minutes, but the Tigers had just enough left to turn them away.
Failing to recover the onside kick with 49 seconds left, the defense needed one more stand. Davis called out for a “heart check,” and freshman Khristian Zachary came through on the pass rush. His sack on first down forced the Raiders, who had no timeouts left, to have their receivers sprint back to the line from their deep routes, burning off 21 seconds in the process. That did enough to stall their progress and seal the victory.
The Tigers will take the win any way they can get it.
“We made a lot of mistakes, we came out sluggish, but I’m proud of the way we fought,” said Davis of his young team with just 10 seniors. “We’re still growing, so we’ve just got to keep going.”
Next week, the 2-3 Tigers return home to reignite the county’s oldest rivalry when they host the 5-0 McIntosh Chiefs.
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