Pilots pick up big playoff points

OLD WASHINGTON – Weather and a key injury forced River’s game plan to switch from conservative to ultra conservative.

When Nick Asturi went down with an ankle injury early in the second half, River’s usual two-pronged ground assault was down to one.

A steady rain kept the ball wet and the Pilots’ play sheet devoid of passing attempts.

River escaped with a 24-14 victory against Buckeye Trail, albeit the final quarter of football was a bit more exciting than Pilots’ coach Mike Flannery would have liked to see.

“We made it interesting didn’t we,” Flannery pondered after his team improved to 6-3, keeping its Division VI, Region 23 playoff hopes alive. “When Asturi got hurt, we didn’t want to pass up 24-0 and I think we may have gotten a little too conservative. We just wanted to pick up some first downs and keep the ball on the ground.

“But if I had to do it again, I’d do the same thing.”

Asturi rushed for 59 yards and two touchdowns before having his right ankle rolled on early in the third. He had to be helped off the field and didn’t return.

Given that Flannery was not looking to air it out with a 24-point cushion, it meant Jordan Sapp was about to get a yeoman’s share of the offensive work. To Sapp’s credit, he responded as Flannery expected, charging hard and churning out chunks of yardage.

Sapp led all rushers with 147 yards on 24 carries. His longest run of 40 yards came on the Pilots’ first play of the game, setting up a Colton Wright 25-yard field goal.

Trail was behind 10-0 but still holding its own when a controversial play resulted in another River touchdown.

The Warriors forced a 3-and-out but the punt bounced directly in front of a trail player and seemingly off to the side. A River player scooped up the ball and kept running. The play was blown dead. However, the Pilots were awarded the fumble recovery.

A few plays later, Cody Caldwell surged through the pile from 2-yards out.

“We were only down 10-0 and that fumble didn’t help things,” Buckeye Trail coach Dale Broomhall said. “But the kids battled back and played hard and we’ll come out next week and see if we can finish with a win.”

Trail did battle back, finally catching a break in the fourth.

Morgan Dougherty scored from 2-yards out with 8:28 showing in the fourth. He then hit Tyler Starr for the 2-point conversion.

River then coughed up the ball, setting up Trail at the visitors’ 24-yard line. The Pilots defense stiffened, however, forcing an incompletion from Dougherty on 4th down.

Trail again forced a three-and-out. When the punt snap sailed above Wright, he was forced to scramble and was run out of bounds well short of the first down.

Dougherty found C.J. Beaver from 15-yards out for another Trail TD. The 2-point try failed, leaving the Warriors down 10 with less than 4 minutes to play.

River turns its attention to a regular-season finale against Frontier, as well as the Ohio prep scoreboard. The Pilots are currently in ninth place in the region and are hoping for a loss from the teams above them.

“We need either Portsmouth Notre Dame or Fairfield Christian to lose if we want to move up,” Flannery said. “But we also have to take care of business against Frontier.”

Notre Dame and Fairfield Christian both play today.

Tyler Nealey led the Warriors with 36 yards on the ground.

while Dougherty threw for 86 yards.