Until further notice, the District 10-4A football championship still runs through Cadillac Street in New Orleans, home of the McDonogh 35 Roneagles.
Coach Wayne Reese’s league champions took Riverdale’s best shots for three quarters before scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns to record a 26-20 victory Friday night at Joe Yenni Stadium in Metairie.
McDonogh 35’s winning points came on a 28-yard scoring pass on fourth down from quarterback Manuel Armstrong to wide receiver Frank Robertson with 38 seconds remaining to squash Riverdale’s aspirations for an upset.
McDonogh 35 (4-3 overall, 1-0 in 10-4A) had to overcome a 14-0 first-quarter deficit to move forward on a positive note heading into another key 10-4A clash against Carver (4-3, 0-0) scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at Pan American Stadium.
“These young kids are about to drive this old man crazy,” the 72-years-young Reese said with a smile. “With the young guys we’ve got, and I don’t care how much you coach them, they’re going be wide-eyed at the start of the game. But after they got their eyes opened, it worked out pretty good for them.”
Returning only five starters from last year’s district champions with all of those coming on defense, the Roneagles regained possession with 1 minute, 7 seconds remaining following a short Riverdale punt that put McDonogh 35 in business at the Rebels’ 28-yard line. Three consecutive incompletions then set the stage for Armstrong and Robertson’s heroics.
On the decisive fourth-and-10 play, the left-handed Armstrong scrambled to his left, broke free from a pair of would-be sacks and sailed a completion to Robertson just inside of the goal line. No defenders were within 10 yards of Robertson on what appeared to be a busted coverage likely caused by Armstrong’s scramble.
“My (position) coach (Maurice Williams) has told me all spring and all year that you’ve got to make plays,” said Armstrong, who started in place of fellow junior Torey Chambers (who did not play due to disciplinary reasons, according to Reese).
“You’ve got to keep your eyes downfield no matter what and you’ve got to make plays. That’s what it’s all about. On the touchdown, Frank Robertson is a great receiver, and he made a play.”
Riverdale (4-2, 0-1) entered with the league’s best non-district record in its second year under coach Willie Brooks, and the Rebels broke from the gate in opportunistic fashion in taking a 14-0 lead in a contest dominated by both defenses.
The Rebels recovered an errant shotgun snap at McDonogh 35’s 11-yard line to set up a three-play possession that culminated with Royce Wilson completing a 15-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Andrew Sandifer.
That was followed by a 45-yard return of an errant lateral pass by George Hankton IV that Michael Rodriguez followed with his second successful PAT kick for a two-touchdown advantage.
McDonogh 35 scratched back with drives of 65 and 88 yards, respectively, in the second and third periods to tie the score at 14 thanks to a successful 2-point conversion run by Jaden Henderson on a trick swinging-gate play following the first touchdown.
Armstrong’s quarterback sneak from 1 yard away culminated the first scoring drive, and running back Dhaz Wiltz ran 4 yards for the first of his two touchdowns to cap the second.
Wiltz’s second touchdown from 1 yard out capped a 13-yard possession set up by a fumble recovery by McDonogh 35 defensive back Jesse Lawrence.
Riverdale rallied with a 70-yard march to tie the score at 20 following a 1-yard plunge up the middle by running back Antonio Joseph with 6:52 remaining.
McDonogh 35 held a 238 to 112 advantage in yardage due in large part to Armstrong’s 121 yards passing via 6 of 19 attempts and Witz’s team-leading 53 rushing yards on 12 attempts.
The Roneagles’ defense, meanwhile, limited the Rebels to 63 yards rushing that included only 66 by their stellar running back Antonio Joseph.
“I just thank God that our players fought back and they didn’t turn tail and run like last week,” Reese said of a 35-6 loss to crosstown rival Karr, the state’s top-ranked team in Class 4A.
“Karr scared the hell out of them. But they came back this week and fought.”