HUNTINGTON — Ground and pound. Three words that the Huntington Highlanders lived by in a 35-22 season-opening win over visiting Riverside on Friday night at Bob Sang Stadium.
The Highlanders started their season with a dominant first quarter over the Warriors, rushing for 131 yards on 16 carries and three touchdowns in the first 12 minutes of the game.
After the Warriors’ initial two drives ended in three-and-outs, Huntington’s Devin Jackson broke open the scoring for the night with a 58-yard run on the first play of the drive to put the Highlanders ahead by a touchdown.
Huntington held Riverside to a third three-and-out, forcing another punt that was blocked by Brocton Blair at the Riverside 11-yard line. Diallo Mitchell logged his first of two first-quarter scores and gave the home team a 14-0 lead with 4:32 left in the first.
His second score came with less than a minute left on a 1-yard run to extend the Highlander lead to 21-0 after one.
Riverside, however, rebounded from crucial mistakes early on, keeping the Highlanders out of the end zone and scoring a pair of touchdowns to come within a score before the break.
“Sometimes when you jump on a team early like that you let off the gas and that’s what happened to us,” Huntington coach Billy Seals said. “Special teams practically gave them two touchdowns. We’ve got to get better across the board. But hey, no coach is ever going to complain about being 1-0.”
The Warriors’ first score was set up perfectly by a long kickoff return from Griffin Key to the Highlander 15. Facing a fourth-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line, quarterback Javante Elzy got his team on the board with a 1-yard rush, bringing the score to 21-6 after a failed 2-point conversion.
After the failed conversion, a scuffle broke out in the corner of the end zone, resulting in four unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, two of those handed to Riverside’s Austin Chapman, who was consequently ejected from the game.
The Warriors’ second score came when a blocked punt was returned 1 yard for a score by Riverside’s Dalton Mullens, bringing the Warriors within 21-14 after a successful 2-point conversion.
“That’s something different that we’ve seen,” Riverside coach Alex Daughtery said. “Sometimes we’d throw in the towel like when you give up those three quick scores and we’d be down in the dumps but we got up tonight. That’s the positive from this evening.”
The Highlanders continued to dictate the pace of the game by keeping the ball on the ground for the majority of the third quarter. Highlighted by an 11-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Mitchell recording his third touchdown of the evening to give HHS a 28-14 lead.
Mitchell led the team in carries with 17 and finished with 73 yards and a trio of scores. Huntington’s other two backs, Jackson and Blair, each had double-digit carries and more than 100 yards on the ground.
“They can’t focus on just one because they’ve got to worry about three of us back there,” Mitchell said. “I got to give it to my line for the blocks but our three-headed attack is pretty good. Every one of us can run the ball, I was just lucky enough to carry it in the end zone a few time tonight.”