With playoff positioning on the line, No. 14 Riverside hosted No. 9 Greenbrier East at Warrior Stadium in an attempt to ensure a slot in the Class AAA field of 16. But Riverside could not grind out a win, falling to the Spartans 25-6 on a cold Friday night.
Despite the loss, the Warriors were still able to crack the 16-team playoff field in Class AAA, their first postseason berth since 2007. According to unofficial figures provided by Ed Forshey of WVtailgatecentral.com, Riverside will finish 15th in AAA and play next week at No. 2 Cabell Midland in the first round. The SSAC’s official ratings will be released Saturday and playoff dates, sites and kickoff times will be determined Sunday.
In frigid temperatures on Friday, both teams initially had trouble with turnovers. They combined for five in the first half with Riverside giving away three fumbles and East giving away a fumble and an interception.
“Field position is such a big part of what we do and we didn’t make enough stops,” said second-year Warriors coach Alex Daugherty. “It makes it tough to win a game when we don’t control that. We did everything we could schematically to stop the run but we just couldn’t. We also didn’t hang on to the football.”
The Warriors (4-6) opened the game with a 43-yard kickoff return to the Spartan 43-yard line. They would drive to the GEHS 13, where the first of three first-half fumbles was lost. The Spartans followed with a 7-minute, 58-second drive of their own that stalled at the Warrior 26 on a fourth down rush that fell a yard short.
As both teams fought for field position throughout the first half, fumbles on punt returns became a problem with both teams giving away the ball at midfield.
Midway through the second quarter, Spartan quarterback Kyle King’s throw to the middle was picked off by the Warriors’ Dalton Mullins, who returned it 63 yards for an apparent touchdown, only for it to be called back by a block-in-the-back penalty, nullifying the score.
With 3:33 to play before the break, East managed to drive to the Warrior 1 mainly on a 24-yard scramble by King. However, the Riverside defense rose to the occasion, stopping a fourth-down sneak by King at the 1-foot line to preserve the 0-0 tie at the break.
Greenbrier East (7-3) opened the second half going almost strictly to punishing runs from their 260-pound fullback Marion Lawson. With no turnovers, the Spartans used up 5:40 off the clock with King going in from 5 yards out for the initial score of the game.
The Spartans came into the game having won four of their last five contests, with the only loss in that stretch of games being to a solid Parkersburg South team two weeks ago. They were seeking their first back-to-back playoff appearances since the 1997 season.
As the second half wore on, the offensive line of the Spartans began taking control leading to 343 yards on the ground for the game to counter no passing yards. They would go on to add three more scores in the fourth quarter to pull away for the victory.
“I am so proud of this football team I can’t even express it in words,” said Spartans coach Ray Lee. “The way they’ve fought all season and the things they’ve accomplished, I can’t help but be really proud of them.”
For Riverside, Caden Easterling finished with 65 yards on 13 carries while quarterback Javante Elzy added 58 yards on 3 of 8 passing.
The Spartans’ Lawson finished with 171 yards on 25 carries with teammate King adding 135 yards on 16 totes.