Riverside is now two wins from a state championship.
The Rebels can thank the guy wearing No. 2 and a strong performance in the second half for helping get them march a step closer to the Dome.
Running back Brandon Sanders rushed for 194 yards and a pair of touchdowns as top-seed Riverside pulled away for a 38-15 victory over No. 9 Newman in the Division III quarterfinals at Michael Lupin Field.
“We got stuff going in the second half and picked it up,” Sanders said. “Credit goes to those five guys up front.”
Sanders, the 5-foot-6, 175 guy who teammates call “Papa Smurf,” scored on runs of 30 and 4 yards in the second half. He also broke off a 66-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Riverside (10-1) advances to the semifinals and will host St. Charles on Friday. Riverside beat St. Charles 35-3 in the regular season.
“It feels great to be this close,” said Riverside senior Herb McGee, who also scored a pair of touchdowns. “I think I’m going to cry if we beat St. Charles at our house.”
Riverside led just 10-9 at halftime over a gritty Newman team but scored 21 straight points in the second half to pull away.
It was the 10th straight win of the season for the Rebels and second of the season against the Greenies, who finished 8-3.
It was the second-half surge that proved to be the difference.
“Newman played extremely hard,” Riverside coach Bill Stubbs said. “That’s probably the best effort in four years I’ve seen from Newman. Hats off to them. They had zero quit in them. We were able to come out and play Riverside ball in the second half.”
Jared Butler started off the second half with a 24-yard touchdown strike to Tyler Gauthier that put the visiting Rebels up 17-9.
Then Sanders scored twice to stretch the lead.
“He’s an incredibly hard runner,” Stubbs said. “He’s been doing that all year. One guy isn’t going to bring him down.”
Trailing 31-9, Newman cut it to 31-15 on a 6-yard run by Miles Lapeyre and recovered an onside kick. The Greenies drove to the Riverside 2 with a chance to make it a one possession game.
But Trey Catorie intercepted a pass that all but sealed it, and the Rebels drove to tack on one last touchdown.
“We just turned it up in the second half,” McGee said.
Newman hung around in the first half.
McGee gave Riverside an early lead with a 1-yard run. Newman answered with an 11-play drive, capped by Kirk Groome’s 41-yard field goal. The Greenies took the lead just moments later on a touchdown that was set up by a Jack Miller interception and return to the Rebels’ 1-yard line. Newman running back James Poche plunged in two plays later, but the extra point was blocked and Newman led 9-7. Riverside got a field goal from Gauthier to regain the lead.
“I’m so proud of our kids,” Newman coach Nelson Stewart said. “That’s the No. 1 football team in the state, and we knew we were outmanned tonight. But my guys left everything on the field tonight. That was our defense’s finest performance.”
Riverside has now won five straight against Newman and six of the past seven in the series.
But now it must turn its attention to beating St. Charles for a second time this season.
“I know they have been looking forward to it,” Stubbs said. “We will tie it up again and see how it goes.”