East Jefferson, the battered and bruised defending Class 4A state champion, proved Friday night that it still has plenty of playmakers on its youthful roster.
That was the case after the Warriors — thanks to their defense — recovered from a 11-point halftime deficit, taking advantage of seven Riverdale turnovers en route to a 27-14 victory in District 8-4A play at Joe Yenni Stadium.
“We were desperate (for a win),” said East Jefferson defensive back Leonard LeBranch, who forced two turnovers. “Now it’s about us sticking together as a team.”
East Jefferson improved to 3-3 and 1-0 in district. The turnovers were too much to overcome for Riverdale (3-3, 0-1).
“I try to let all our seniors know we’re not allowed to crack,” said Donte Jackson, Riverdale’s all-purpose playmaker. He finished with 141 rushing yards, including the Rebels’ first score, a 74-yard burst through the Warriors defense midway through the first quarter.
Even Jackson, though, was not immune to turnovers, fumbling once.
“We have these young guys out here watching us,” Jackson said. “I hate to see them crying, but then again, I love to see them crying because that means it’s more than a game to them. It touched their heart to lose this one.”
Darius Bovie rushed 17 times for 117 yards, including a second-quarter score from 2 yards. Bovie also caught five passes for 45 yards. But his kickoff return fumble is what he’s likely to remember.
His quarterback, Christian Smith, threw for 126 yards but also tossed three interceptions.
And East Jefferson, with a new coach and virtually all new starters, showed it had learned something from its graduated teammates. Not bad for homecoming night.
“I had to do what I had to do to help this team get a win,” said LeBranch, who started the turnover triumph with a 51-yard fumble return for a score early in the third quarter.
On his next defensive series, LeBranch intercepted Smith deep in Warriors territory. While East Jefferson’s drive stalled at the 19, the big plays on defense and special teams continued.
Riverdale’s ensuing drive ended on fourth down, where East Jefferson’s Maurice Tucker blocked a punt. Four plays later, quarterback Trevor Diggs scored from 13 yards.
The Riverdale turnovers continued on its next drive, with East Jefferson’s Dejon Severe recovering another fumble. Two plays later, Diggs’ second score gave East Jefferson a 24-14 lead with 9:56 left.
From there, Riverdale committed three more turnovers: the ensuing kickoff after Diggs’ second score, a second Smith interception (DeShawn Raymond) and, with a minute remaining, Roman Edwards securing the victory with a final interception.
“Like I told them, that’s why you play two halves of football,” first-year East Jefferson coach Marc Martin said.
Morris Sarah led East Jefferson with 61 rushing yards. Diggs finished with 30.
“It was my fault,” Riverdale coach Brett Bonnaffons said. “I made the worst calls I could have made as an offensive coach. I did not put us in position to make plays.
“We can win some games coming up and be in a position to be in the playoffs, hopefully, and hopefully I do a better job next week.”