Ground game sparks River past Frontier

NEW MARTINSVILLE – It was one chaotic week for the River High School football team.

During the course of the week, the Pilots thought they were going to be the beneficiaries of two forfeits by Reedsville Eastern only to learn on Thursday that the OHSAA had reversed its decision and Eastern was back in the eighth spot of Division VI, Region 23.

With the decision, the Pilots found themselves back on the bubble needing a victory and help on Saturday if they had any hopes of qualifying for the postseason.

The Pilots shook off any negative vibes and played inspired football against Frontier Saturday afternoon at Alumni Field, cruising to a 44-19 victory, taking care of their business and then played the waiting game as the OHSAA will formally announce the playoff pairings for the entire state today.

“I am really proud of these kids because they played lights out,” said River head coach Mike Flannery. “I can’t ask for a greater bunch of kids than we have, and I really believe it would be a crime if we’re not in (the playoffs) next week.”

As the Pilots headed to computers, radios and whatever means they could find to monitor scores Saturday night, they can rest easy, however, knowing they did their part.

“I sure hope that something happens that we can get in, but if not?,” Flannery said. “It’s a 7-3 football season with a great bunch of seniors with several of whom that could go on and play college football.”

The Pilots employed the same recipe they’ve used every week, feed the talented backfield duo of senior Nick Asturi and junior Jordan Sapp, while senior quarterback Cody Caldwell manages the game well and takes care of the ball on offense and let the defensive unit make plays.

River ran the ball for 377 yards and scored all six of its touchdowns on the ground. Asturi ran 26 times for 138 yards and surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the season in the process. Sapp finished with 99 yards on seven carries.

The Pilots’ defense, meanwhile, was constantly in the Cougars’ backfield and produced two safeties thanks to plays by J.D. Dotson and Garth Richter, respectively. All told, Frontier ran the ball 40 times for a net of minus 21 yards.

“The defense has been sound all season,” Flannery said. “We ran the ball well and Cody did a heck of job of running the offense. I am really proud of our backs and our linemen.”

Behind the defense not allowing the Cougars to get untracked early, River built a 21-0 lead thanks to scoring bursts by Asturi of 7 and 47 yards along with Sapp, who ran 46 yards basically untouched to paydirt.

“We jumped on them, but we kind of took a break and got a little bit too comfortable with the lead,” Flannery said.

The Cougars proceeded to score twice early in the second quarter when senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson found classmate Eddie Salazar for a 67-yard pitch-and-catch. Capitalizing on the second of three River turnovers, the Cougars struck again when Jefferson found senior Dusty Wright for a 20-yard score.

The Pilots began salting the game away in the third when Sapp rumbled in for his second score from 9 yards out.

Flannery was quick to point out the work done by his offensive line, which is comprised of Thomas Tharp, Brett Rosen, Brandon Reusser, Dakota Dunn, Evan Eggleston, Dotson and tight end Richter, who got into the scoring act in the fourth on a 2-yard plunge.

“On top of those kids, we’ve got unselfish backs who block for each other, too,” Flannery said. “Kam Brown, Dallas Necessary, Bryce Cross are also good blockers along with Jonathan Stewart, who opens up holes for both Nick and Jordan.”

River scored on the final play of the game when Bailey Reusser took a hand off and raced 69 yards for the score which occurred as the clock turned to all zeros.

“Our kids knew this could have been their last game,” Flannery said. “And they showed up and played their hearts out.”