Photos: New Orleans prep football _lowres

Advocate photo by KYLE ENCAR --Riverside running back Brandon Sanders leaps over Newman defensive back Cy Winsberg for a touchdown in a game last month.

When his quarterback walked into the locker room in the summer and announced to the Riverside Academy football team that he was leaving, Bill Stubbs was sorely disappointed.

Stubbs and junior-to-be Deuce Wallace had grown close the past two seasons, and the coach had come to count on the phenom’s athleticism and leadership skills. But the fact he was losing his star quarterback never dimmed the coach’s hopes for the season. Not one bit.

“We knew we had a lot of good players,” said Stubbs, in his third year as the Rebels coach. “We’re not just one person.”

Stubbs’ faith in his team certainly has been rewarded. With a brand-new quarterback under center and a still strong supporting cast, the Rebels have put together a dream season.

Riverside finished the regular season 10-0, its first undefeated season since 2000, when the team went to the Superdome for the Class 2A championship and lost to Ouachita Christian. It finished as the No. 3 ranked team in Class 2A and the No. 3 seed in the Division III select bracket.

After five straight home games, including two playoff wins, the Rebels are taking their show on the road. Riverside (12-0) faces No. 2 seed and No. 4 ranked defending state champion Calvary Baptist (10-1) in a Division III semifinal.

The Rebels’ road so far has been mostly a smooth one, with the loss of Wallace merely a speed bump along the way. Riverside captured the District 8-2A championship with barely a fight, outscoring opponents 401-60. The Rebels scored more than 60 points in five games, 50 or more in six games and 40 or more in all but three, averaging 51.25 points per game. Their opponents averaged 10.7.

Stubbs gives most of that credit, not to his offense, but to his defense, which has forced more than 60 turnovers.

“That’s just unheard of,” Stubbs said. “We’ve only lost the ball five or six times over the course of the year. Our defense is either scoring, or they’re getting the ball back and giving it back to the offense to give them another shot at it. That’s an incredible stat, a really glaring stat. I think the Saints (going into Monday’s game) were minus-9.”

Calvary Baptist has recorded 35 takeaways, according to their MaxPreps statistics.

But Stubbs knows Riverside’s defense will face a tough task trying to stop Calvary. The Cavaliers are led by junior quarterback Shea Patterson, who has multiple Division I scholarship offers. He has passed for more than 2,100 yards and 35 touchdowns. Running back Orlando Bradford (Arizona commitment) has rushed for 831 yards and 14 TDs.

Wide receiver Shun Brown has 57 catches for 1156 yards and 20 touchdowns. Calvary’s secondary, which includes cornerback brothers Andraez and Rodarius Williams, is arguably one of the best in the state.

Riverside, meanwhile, has rallied around 14-year-old sophomore quarterback Jordan Loving, who has passed for 1,690 yards and 25 touchdowns with only five interceptions. Those yards have been well distributed between Herb McGee (552 yards, 11 TDs) and Von Julien (667 yards, 14 TDs).

“I’m sure they’re looking at us as some little country bumpkin team,” Stubbs said. “They know they’re extremely talented and very good. We’re just going to go up there and play football. We don’t get concerned with our opponent and what they do. We can’t control that. We can only control what we do.”