Riverside often turns to its offense when it needs a big spark, but the defense was ready to share the spotlight Friday night.
Riverside capitalized after a pair of defensive stands in the second half, then leaned on running back Brandon Sanders to run out the clock and earn a 31-14 victory over Plaquemine in a nondistrict game at Mickey Roussel Field.
The Rebels (3-1) let a 10-point halftime lead quickly dissipate to three after allowing Plaquemine to score on its first series of the third quarter.
But the Riverside defense rebounded to force a turnover on downs in the waning minutes of the third quarter, then mustered a momentum-shifting goal-line stand at the start of the fourth to preserve the score and eventually run away with the win.
“We don’t let circumstances dictate what we do,” said Riverside linebacker Evan Veron, a Nicholls State commit. “We’re like firemen; when we get called, we got to go out. We came out and were light-outs, and after we stopped them on fourth down, they were shot after that.”
“We didn’t capitalize off turnovers like we should have,” Plaquemine coach Paul Distefano said. “They’re a great team in all three phases. We’ve seen some very good defenses this year, but they may be the best one we’ve seen. On that first-and-goal from 5, we didn’t capitalize when we had a chance to take the lead, and that’s disappointing.”
Riverside, ranked second in The New Orleans Advocate’s Super 10 among small schools and fifth in Class 2A by the LSWA, looked the part to open the contest.
After driving 72 yards on the game’s opening series, Riverside turned the ball over on downs only to see the defense quickly force a three-and-out.
A short punt set the Rebels up with the ball at the Plaquemine 39-yard-line, and after four consecutive runs by Sanders, which allowed for senior Tyler Gauthier to split the uprights with a 27-yard field goal and the 3-0 advantage just before the end of the first quarter.
Field position continued to be a theme into the second quarter as the Rebels blocked a punt and recovered the ball at the Plaquemine 15. The offense needed merely three plays, including a 20-yard strike from senior quarterback Herb McGee to sophomore receiver Jared Butler, to extend the lead to 10 just 11 seconds into the frame.
Riverside added a third touchdown before the half — an 18-yard run by McGee — to move ahead 17-0 just before the two-minute mark.
With their backs against the wall, the Green Devils (1-3) mustered a response.
Seniors Austin Mitchell and Myron Gibson combined to complete five passes, the last a 26-yard strike from Mitchell to sophomore Wayne Toussant, to cap an 80-yard drive and put Plaquemine on the scoreboard for the first time in the game.
That momentum continued into the third quarter, as Plaquemine took advantage of a McGee interception and went 69 yards in five plays, the last a 55-yard rushing touchdown by senior tailback Tyler Wesley, which cut the Rebels lead to 17-14.
Unable to get much going on offense, Riverside turned to the other side of the ball in need of a spark.
With the Devils driving at midfield, Veron sacked Mitchell for a 4-yard loss on third-and-8 to set up and fourth-and-long pass attempt that hit the dirt.
Following a second McGee pick, which put Plaquemine at the Riverside 5 with a first-and-goal, the Rebels bent but didn’t break, stuffing back-to-back runs at the goal line to force a second consecutive turnover on downs.
Riverside’s defensive stop helped the team regain momentum. Two plays later, Sanders came through with a 58-yard burst, then followed with a 19-yard touchdown run to extend the lead back to 10.
On the following Riverside possession, Sanders capped a four-play drive with an 18-yard touchdown run, his second of the fourth quarter and the game.
Sanders finished with a game-high 174 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. McGee went 15-of-24 through the air with a touchdown and two picks, as well as 64 yards rushing with a score. Gauthier led the team with three receptions for 53 yards.