By STEVE GOLDMAN
For the Star Beacon
The Riverside Beavers are a resilient team, and it showed in multiple ways in their exciting 26-22 win at Chardon on Friday night.
The one that will likely be remembered the most came near game’s end. After falling behind 22-19, the Beavers (6-2, 5-0 in the Premier Athletic Conference) drove 81 yards, only to have running back Marcus Jones stopped inches short of the goal line on fourth down from the 1 with 6:37 left.
The defense responded by making the Hilltoppers (4-4, 3-2) go three-and-out. Then on the first play after the ensuing punt, Jones (140 yards on 19 carries) broke through the line and ran to daylight. The 31-yard touchdown came with 4:34 left and proved to be the winning score.
“It felt great,” Jones said. “After we didn’t get in, I was a little frustrated at first. I got down on myself, but it’s all about overcoming adversity. That’s what this game’s about. So I knew our defense could hold ‘em, and we got the job done.”
“Our kids just (stood) in there and said, ‘You know what?,’” Riverside coach Dave Bors said. “‘Huge momentum swing. Stick our nose in, get the ball back, stop ‘em.’ That was Chardon ball there. It was like they were just going to run the clock out (with) a couple first downs. So our kids did a great job stopping ‘em.”
The win kept the Beavers (6-2) on top of the Premier Athletic Conference race with a 5-0 record, and they will finish the regular season by playing the two teams that have one PAC loss: South and Madison. At 3-2 in the league, Chardon (4-4) no longer has a realistic chance at even a share of a conference crown.
Following Jones’ score, Chardon moved the ball across midfield via two first downs. However, on a fourth and 3 from the 48, Patrick Sullivan (31 carries for 79 yards; 6-for-11 passing for 138 yards) threw a deep pass. The defender slipped and fell as the ball appeared to be underthrown, and that left the receiver wide open. However, he dropped the ball. The Beavers were then able to run out the final 1:23.
“This one’s hard for our seniors,” Chardon coach Mitch Hewitt said. “Any time you have a lead late in the fourth quarter — it stings more than sometimes when you’re losing by 30 in the fourth quarter.”
Jones had come back into the game after incurring a forearm injury just three plays before being stopped near the goal line. That’s another example of resilience, as is the fact that Riverside stuck to its task after seeing a 19-7 halftime advantage slip away.
Maxx Brubaker also personified resilience. After moving his team down the field 90 yards in eight plays for a touchdown after the opening kickoff was muffed — yet another example of Riverside’s resilience — the senior was intercepted on his next two possessions by Chardon’s Justin Oh. However, he then engineered scoring drives the next two times the Beavers had the ball.
“Give our guys a lot of credit for continuing to fight back and not folding when we very easily could have,” Bors said.
Brubaker, who had thrown a 30-yard scoring pass to Pat Remington earlier, sneaked the ball in from the 1 to complete a 51-yard drive and provide a 13-7 lead, after Remington had returned a punt 32 yards. Then after a Jack Maxwell interception, Riverside was able to move 44 yards on four plays, with Brubaker finding Cameron Jefferies for a 20-yard TD.
“I can’t even explain it right now,” Brubaker, who was 16-of-25 for 220 yards, said. “We worked so hard in the offseason. This game was won in the offseason. I don’t think anybody’s put in the same work that we had this year.”
“You’re not going to hold a team like this to zero points,” Hewitt said. “(Brubaker) is going to get his yards. Quite frankly, I’m pleased with what we did against him in the pass. We sacked him (6) times. That’s not why we lost this game. Mind you that we had the lead with (less than 5) minutes to go in the game, and it was a run play that put ‘em over the top. You’ve got to control the line of scrimmage in any football game. We didn’t on offense, and we didn’t on defense when it counted. And credit to them.”
Having missed their second extra-point attempt, the Beavers went for two points but failed, leaving the score at 19-7. That was important, as it allowed Chardon to gain the advantage.
While the Hilltoppers’ defense was able to keep Riverside in check the first two times it had the ball after the break, their wing-T offense came out clicking, as it scored twice in three possessions to take the lead, and missed a 41-yard field goal on the other one.
Sullivan’s 23-yard pass to Jordan Bennett made it a one-score game, then Sullivan gave Chardon the lead with a 7-yard run around left end with 10:42 remaining in the contest. Sullivan then ran the ball in for 2 points and a 22-19 edge.
Chardon scored its other touchdown when it answered Riverside’s opening possession. Ben Cyvas’ 2-yard run completed a 12-play, 76-yard march.
“We said coming in if they were going to beat us, they were going to do it throwing,” Bors, who credited coach Jeremy Ishmael for the defensive game plan, said. “And it came darn close. We said we’ve got to stop the run first. I’m very proud of our defense.”
“Ultimately, the credit has to be given to the Riverside front seven,” Hewitt said. “Our biggest run play was (15) yards. We had to throw not because we wanted to, but we had to. They dominated the line of scrimmage.”
“This game’s been a one-touchdown game dating back to 2009,” Bors said. “You’ve got two great football teams, coaching staffs who care about their kids. Chardon’s extremely well-coached. It could have gone either way.”
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.