River rallies to keep playoff hopes alive

HANNIBAL — With its playoff lives hanging by a very thin thread, River stormed back from a 21-0 first-half deficit Saturday afternoon to knock off state-ranked Lucas, 30-27, on Senior Day at Martin Flannery Field.

Despite all the points, the final outcome came down to a fourth-down stop by the Pilots in the last minute.

“This (win) ranks right up there at the top,” veteran River head coach Mike Flannery said of the come-from-behind triumph. “I’ve had a lot of wins, but that’s one of the top ones.”

Flannery said he wasn’t quite sure who got credit for the crucial stop, which came on fourth-and-goal from the 1.

“It really doesn’t matter who made the tackle. We had to make the play and we did.”

River (5-4) entered the contest ranked 10th in the latest Division VII, Region 27, but will pick up some huge bonus points as the Cubs (7-2) were ranked No. 2.

“That (win) was a total team effort,? Flannery said while holding back his emotions. “Everybody had something to do with that win.”

River trailed 13-0 after one quarter and 21-8 at the half as the Cubs’ double-wing offense controlled the ball for most of the first 24 minutes.

The Pilots got on the board late in the first half on a 1-yard run by Lukas Isaly and his two-point pass to Colton Lawrence. They carried that momentum into the second half with a sack of Lucas quarterback Logan Niswander on the final play of the half.

After holding the Cubs on their first series of the second half, the Pilots started navigating their way back.

“Lukas told me he wanted the ball in the second half,” Flannery said. “He said he didn’t care what plays we called, he just wanted the ball.”

The athletic senior signal-caller directed an 8-play, 57-yard drive that he completed with a 2-yard sneak. His two-point pass to Drew Dietz in the back of the end zone made it 21-15.

River’s defense stiffened and forced the only punt of the game for Lucas.

River then went 45 yards on five plays as Isaly lofted the ball into the right corner of the end zone on third-and-9 from the Cubs’ 24. The 6-4 Dietz made a great adjustment while the ball was in the air as the defender fell down. Grant Williams’ PAT put the Pilots ahead for the first time, 23-21, with 3:38 remaining in the third period.

Lucas came right back as Jeb Grover carried the workload. The 5-10, 189-pound junior fueled a 13-play, 60-yard march that put the Richland Countians back on top, 27-23, as the two-point conversion failed with 9:33 showing.

Not to be outdone, River came right back as Isaly carried six straight times to the Cubs’ 26. On third-and-4, Isaly once again looked for his favorite target and Dietz didn’t disappoint. This time the duo hooked up for the game-winner in similar fashion as Dietz outjumped a smaller Lucas defender to secure the ball and the go-ahead points.

“I tell Lukas all the time to just throw the ball up and I’ll go get it,” Dietz explained. “That’s what he did. With my size I have to make those plays.”

Isaly agreed.

“Drew and I talk all the time in practice about throwing the ball up and letting him go get it. That’s all I did. This was a great way for us to conclude our season at home.”

Isaly finished with 128 yards and two touchdowns on seven completions. Dietz had four catches, all in the second half, for 75 yards and the two TDs. Isaly also went over the 1,000-yard mark rushing when he went 71 yards the play after the goalline stand to seal the deal.

“When I hit the hole I said ‘here we go,'” Isaly explained. “I was pretty tired at that point and knew the guy had the angle on me. All I wanted to do was get as many yards as I could, stay in bounds and hold onto the ball.”

Grover had 176 yards and two scores on 34 carries for Lucas, which didn’t attempt a pass in the second half. The Cubs had 61 carries for 262 yards.

River closes the regular season at Frontier Friday night.