By STEVE GOLDMAN
For the Star Beacon
PAINESVILLE TOWNSHIP —
For almost 35 minutes, it looked as though Madison had Friday’s game in hand and would likely secure a Division II playoff spot. But oh, how things changed in a hurry.
When John O’Brien hauled in his second touchdown pass of the evening, a 25-yarder from Nick Knight, and Mark Murray ran the ball in for a two-point conversion, the Blue Streaks held a 14-0 advantage. But it took host Riverside less than three minutes to tie the game. The Beavers went on to win it in overtime, 21-20, when Marcus Jones answered a Madison touchdown with an 11-yard scoring run and Joe Munaretto booted the extra point.
“I just can’t say enough about them,” coach Dave Bors, who led the Beavers to a 7-3, 5-2 record, good for a tie for second place in the Premier Athletic Conference, said. “This is just where the program’s going. We’re not super right now, but the fight in these kids — if you want to be remembered for anything, it’s that you never quit, you never give up. It’s body language, it’s attitude, it’s everything.”
When the Blue Streaks (6-4, 4-3) grabbed the two-touchdown advantage, the Beavers’ Maxx Brubaker (13-of-28, 140 yards) had completed just two passes for 18 yards. But at that point, he and his receivers started to click. After they took the ball over at their own 15, a personal foul — one of 13 Madison penalties for 125 yards on the wet and muddy night—started an 85-yard drive. Brubaker connected with his next five passes for 52 yards, and then Jones used two carries to go the remaining 18 yards, capping it with a six-yard score.
Riverside squibbed the ensuing kickoff, and the ball hit a Madison player in the face. Eric Stroski recovered on the Blue Streak 32.
Brubaker then hit Chandler Smith for a 28-yard gain to the four. Nate Vernon took it in from the one two plays later, and just like that the game was tied with 10:22 remaining to be played in regulation.
“They started moving the ball at the end of the third quarter,” Madison coach Tim Willis said. “They made a couple plays on us, and then they kicked off, and our guy bobbled the ball and they recovered it.
“That sort of demoralizes your defense.”
Three punts came next, with a short one giving the Beavers possession at the Madison 47 with 5:18 on the clock. With the help of a fake punt, they moved it to the 13 before Munaretto’s 30-yard field goal attempt was blocked with 1:09 left.
The Blue Streaks moved it past midfield, but lost the ball on a fumble. Riverside got as far as the Madison 26 before an illegal procedure call with one second left. A pass fell incomplete, sending the game into overtime.
Murray (32 carries for 150 yards; 1,070 yards for the season), who had hooked up with O’Brien on a 45-yard option pass for the only score of the first half, capped a five-yard possession with a one-yard TD run. However, the ensuing extra-point attempt was blocked.
That, in fact, was a consistent problem for the Blue Streaks, as all three placekicks they attempted failed, including the first extra-point attempt and a 26-yard field goal try in the first quarter.
Munaretto also had a 21-yard field-goal attempt blocked, moments after Madison’s miss. Jones had a 59-yard run to help put the Beavers in position for that one.
Following Murray’s score in overtime, Jones ran nine yards to the 11, and then seemingly carried half the Madison defense with him over the goal line on the next play.
“We hung in there and got it to overtime and missed an extra point,” Willis said.
“We were down 14-0 at the end of the third quarter to a team that’s fighting for their playoff lives,” Bors said. “And our guys battled back and said, ‘It doesn’t matter. We have nothing to play for, technically on paper, except for our pride and Riverside football.’ ”
On Senior Night, Jones, a sophomore, wore the jersey of star defensive end August Runyon, a senior who couldn’t play because of a concussion and isn’t planning on playing college football. Jones related that it was an honor to wear his jersey.
“We just kept chewing at it,” Jones said. “When we tired them down, we ran, we passed, we spread the field and we did what we could do. That’s Riverside football.”
“We just have a never-quit attitude,” junior Adam Horvat said. “We play our hearts out every single play.”
Each side had touchdowns nullified by penalty. Nick Law returned the opening kickoff 92 yards, but an illegal block was called. Later, a Knight-to-Braden Jerome scoring play was reversed by a holding call, although O’Brien caught his second TD pass later on the drive.
Riverside’s Nick Iapaolo had a 64-yard punt return nullified by an illegal block. It would have marked its third touchdown within a five-minute span.
“Our team played very well tonight; we just didn’t win,” Willis said. “There are a lot of things that are out of our control — things that are out of my control, that dictate what goes on in these games.
“Give credit to Riverside. They hung in there, they fought back and they made the kick. We didn’t. That’s what it came down to.”
“I can’t say enough about the Riverside community,” Bors said. “The entire community has rallied around all the students.”It’s made us rise up.”
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.
Click here to subscribe to The Star Beacon print edition.
Click here to subscribe to The Star Beacon replica edition.