In a key early season contest, the Riverside football team managed to eke out a thrilling 28-26 victory over visiting Ripley on the Warriors’ first night on their new artificial turf at Warrior Field.

The Warriors (2-1), who rolled over Woodrow Wilson in the opening week and had a late rally fall short against Huntington last week, relied on the offensive skills of their senior tailback Caden Easterling and an opportunistic defense that gathered in four Viking fumbles.

“We know anytime we play Ripley, it’s gonna be a dogfight,” said second-year Warriors coach Alex Daugherty. “We almost gave it away. I’m not real pleased with this win, ‘cause we gotta keep our mistakes to a minimum, but at the end of the day, our defense has got to get more aggressive. But it is a win and I’ll take it.”

The Vikings (1-2), playing desperately to score on only three minutes of possession in the second half, punched it in with 46 seconds left in the game on a 2-yard run by Kadin Hall. But Ripley failed on the 2-point conversion pass, giving the Warriors the win.

In a see-saw battle of aggressive ground games, the Vikings struck first when tailback Dalton Myers scampered around right end and tight-roped the sideline from 31 yards out to take a 7-0 lead.

Riverside immediately fumbled the ball back to Ripley on the initial play of its possession. However, the Warrior defense rose to the challenge and averted an early two-score deficit by stopping the Viking offense on downs. The Warriors would drive the length of the field with Easterling taking it in from 13 yards out. A successful 2-point conversion gave the Warriors an 8-7 lead heading into the second quarter.

Both teams would trade scoring drives in the second quarter, with Ripley using the big play on a 26-yard scamper by Cameron Ramsey and a 53-yard dive play burst by Myers. Riverside employed sweep plays led by senior lineman Austin Chapman to answer every Viking score as Griffin Key scored from 4 yards away and Charlie Pierson punched it in from 10 yards out.

The second half saw the Warriors take the opening drive and control the ball for over 9 minutes, aided by a Viking fumbled punt return. With a fourth down and goal at the Viking 7, a failed pass play gave the Vikings the ball back. Ripley drove back out to midfield only to fumble it away with a minute to play in the third quarter.

The Warriors would continue to hold the ball until Easterling broke away on a 40-yard scamper with 9:31 left in the game. Riverside’s defense stiffened for the remainder of the game, holding the Vikings to very little yardage and grabbing three lost fumbles.

The Vikings (1-2) came into the game having defeated Buckhannon-Upshur last week 38-7.

“This was a hard-fought game on both sides. I’m proud of our kids because they showed a lot of heart and guts tonight,” said Vikings coach Eddie Smolder. “Riverside just seemed to make more plays than we did.”

For Riverside, Easterling finished with 20 carries for 126 yards while teammate Key pitched in 66 yards on 16 carries.

The Vikings’ Myers finished the game with 139 yards on 13 carries, accompanied by quarterback Noah Westfall’s 63 yards on 11 carries.

Contact Derek Redd at 304-348-1712 or derek.redd@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.