Even in the face of all the obstacles that kept popping up, Riverside still had something special left at the end.
Isaiah Osborne caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Javante Elzy on a fourth-and-11 play with 25 seconds left Friday night, handing the Warriors a dramatic 36-33 home victory over South Charleston.
Riverside (4-3) came into the game 11th in the SSAC’s Class AAA playoff ratings, while SC (2-5) was 16th. The top 16 in each class qualify for the postseason.
It marked the first victory for Riverside over SC since 2007. The Black Eagles had taken the last 11 meetings.
“This means everything,’’ said Caden Easterling, who led Riverside's potent ground game with 166 yards on 29 carries. “We’ve been underdogs since forever. It means a lot to the community and for us. It’s a good team win.’’
But to get there, the Warriors had to continually sidestep disaster. They turned the ball over three times, including a lost fumble at midfield to start the fourth quarter when they trailed 33-30. They were also assessed 18 penalties for 147 yards, including four penalties on their final drive.
And what a drive it was. Backed up to its own 12 after a punt, Riverside moved 88 yards on 15 plays and chewed 7 minutes, 19 seconds off the clock. Still, the Warriors had to convert a low-percentage play to win, as Elzy rolled out and found Osborne streaking down the right sideline and into the end zone for a score.
That came two plays after they had the apparent winning touchdown negated by a penalty, as Elzy hit Easterling with a 20-yard TD pass with 35 seconds remaining.
“It’s a testament to the kids,’’ said Warriors coach Alex Daugherty. “We put them through a really hard offseason to take that next step. They’ve always had that ability -- Riverside’s always had the ability, it’s just that between the ears sometimes got them, the confidence to know they can win ballgames.
“Elzy, the leader he is, made a play to another of our seniors. I couldn’t have asked for a better script for today’s game. It’s a testament to these kids, putting it all on the line and for trusting us as coaches. Some people don’t trust anything we do. But everybody in that [locker] room believes everything we’re doing. I can’t say enough about that.’’
Easterling finished as the game’s top rusher and Riverside rolled up 340 yards on the ground and 418 total. Griffin Key ran for two TDs and Elzy threw for a score and ran for another.
Momentum swung back and forth all night as the sides traded big plays and big penalties. SC was flagged 11 times for 117 yards. There were 11 penalties called in the fourth quarter alone.
South Charleston got a pair of touchdowns from Romeo Dunham, a 3-yard run and a 65-yard reception from Trey Dunn, who also ran 19 yards for a score. Dunn hit on 9 of 17 passes for 202 yards, with Dunham catching five for 100 yards and Samahji Simon three for 75 yards.
However, the Black Eagles couldn’t make a stop when they had to in the final minutes as Riverside inexorably marched down the field.
“We couldn’t do anything to stop them on defense,’’ said SC coach Donnie Mays. “They played hard and ran hard and we couldn’t stop them, even when we got that turnover [in the fourth quarter], we couldn’t take advantage and put them away. So it’s on us.’’
There were three lead changes in the first half alone, which ended in a 16-all tie.
Mondrell Dean scored on a 9-yard run for the Black Eagles before Mack Lusk caught a 12-yard scoring pass from Elzy for a 7-6 Riverside lead.
Dunham tallied on a 3-yard run for SC, but then the Warriors tacked on a safety after Elzy was picked off by Jayden Sullivan deep in the Black Eagles end, shaving SC’s lead to 13-9. Elzy cashed in that possession with a 3-yard TD run to put the Warriors up 16-13 with 25 seconds remaining to halftime.
South Charleston then traveled all the way to the Riverside 1 with one second left on a pair of long passes by Dunn, but a holding penalty negated a Dunham touchdown and SC eventually settled for a 32-yard field goal by Chase Edwards for the 16-16 reading at the break.