LAKE CITY, Fla. – “Redemption” was the word of the week around Riverside High School.
It didn’t have to look nice, like some stylish revenge flick. It was gritty and a little nasty, which seems suited for the Generals defense.
Riverside atoned for its only regular-season loss, holding Columbia to nine total yards in the second half. With the defense and special teams combining for or setting up all the Generals points, Riverside knocked district rival Columbia out of the postseason with a 17-3 victory in the Region 1-6A quarterfinals Friday night in the News4Jax Game of the Week.
The Generals (10-1) had a late meltdown during the regular-season contest against Columbia, with six total turnovers and 21 fourth-quarter points allowed resulting in a two-point loss. That possibly cost Riverside, seeded fifth in the region, the top region spot that could have come with the District 3-6A title.
Instead, the title went to the fourth-seed Tigers (6-5).
At the same time, revenge was fine, but there also was the matter of advancing in the postseason. So, Friday’s victory had a double meaning for the Generals, the top team in the News4Jax Super 10.
“It was a little of both,” said senior linebacker Devin Smith, whose forced fumble and recovery set up a second-quarter touchdown for the game’s first score. “At the end of the day, it’s round one and our goal is to go deeper. But also we saw these guys earlier in the year and we felt we played around then. So the word of the week was ‘redemption’.”
The redemption occurred as the defense kept the Columbia out of the end zone despite four turnovers from the Riverside offense, including two fumbles on the first two plays of the second half. Stifling a team’s offense and holding them to nine second-half yards will do that.
Part of the problem for the Tigers was a leg injury to running back Tony Fulton, who had 42 rushing yards in the first half.
Still, Columbia had some close calls, driving into Riverside territory three times in the first half and coming away with zero points.
Smith stripped the ball and recovered it at the Tigers 28 midway through the second quarter. On the next play, quarterback Daniel Plummer hit Jaheim Singletary for the touchdown and a 6-0 lead.
Columbia finally got in gear, moving all the way to the Generals 1 with less than a minute remaining in the half. But a run for no gain was followed by a motion penalty that negated a rushing touchdown by Marcus Peterson.
After a Riverside holding penalty put the ball on the 5 with 1.3 seconds left. Do-it-all receiver Peterson lined up as a Wildcat quarterback and rolled right. But the defense caught up to him and forced him out of bounds to end the half.
The Generals ousted the Tigers from the postseason for the third time in four years, but unlike the past two close calls, this one seemed like a foregone conclusion in the third quarter after Riverside fumbled on its first two plays of the second half.
Columbia could manage only one missed field goal and one made one to cut the lead to 6-3.
After that made field goal, Dayon Rawls took the kick and raced back for the 91-yard return for a touchdown and a 12-3 lead. The way the Riverside defense was playing, the game seemed over at that point.
“That’s energy,” Riverside coach O.J. Small said. “We didn’t have our band, so we needed some energy. That return was big for sure. He told us before the game he was going to house one. I told him I was rooting for him. He did it. We needed it. Came at the right time.”
Smith said the Generals defense was playing at an elite level, as Riverside recorded six sacks, including De’Avery Weeks’ second of the game, which resulted in a safety with 10 minutes remaining. At the same time, the Generals were able to stop drives by forcing three turnovers.
There was very little the Tigers could do on offense at that stage. A series of offensive missteps were costly for Columbia, starting with missed blocks, which set up pressure on quarterback Kade Jackson.
“They stopped us in our run game,” Tigers coach Demetric Jackson said. “The first half, we kind of established a good run. We wanted to come out and establish the run and wear them down. But we missed some key blocks and that put us in obvious passing situations. They got pressure on our quarterback and that hurt us in the end.”
The cost of the regular-season defeat still is evident for the Generals, who have to travel to Pensacola for the region semifinals and face top-seed Pine Forest (9-1), which won 26-7 against Tallahassee Rickards on Friday.
“We were able to avenge our only loss of the season,” Small said. “I was hoping to be district champs and go undefeated, but they gave us the loss. But that might have been good. We were humbled. We have to realize we can’t turn over the ball like that.
“The defense, they played with passion. That’s contagious. We got into it. I heard the fans get into it. I love it. It takes a village to get where you want to go.”
Riverside 17, Columbia 3
Riverside, 0, 6, 6, 5 —17
Columbia, 0, 0, 3, 0 — 3
R – Jaheim Singletary 28 pass from Daniel Plummer (kick blocked)
C – Rolando Dominguez Jayo 35 FG
R – Dayon Rawls 91 kick return (pass failed)
R – Safety, De’Avery Weeks tackled Kade Jackson in end zone
R – Umar Garcia 23 FG
Category: R — C
First downs: 9 — 9
Rushes-yards: 30-118 — 38-49
Passing: 75 — 98
Comp-Att-Int 7-18-2 — 8-20-2
Fumbles-lost: 3-2 — 2-1
Penalties-Yards: 13-116 — 9-75
RUSHING — R: Alvin Gibson 8-52, Charles Jones-Burroughs 8-29, Rawls 4-12, Devin Herring 1-10, Tae-Shaun Gelsey 1-7, Cale Zarah 2-7, Freddie Manning 1-4, Plummer 5-(-3). C: Tony Fulton 9-42, Jaelin Brown 14-13, Marcus Peterson 4-13, Leo Robinson 1-5, Jamari Jones 1-3, Malik Moore 2-3, Bobby Miller 1-(-1), Team 1-(-2), Kade Jackson 6-(-27).
PASSING — R: Plummer 5-9-1-52, Zarah 2-9-1-23. C: Jackson 8-18-2-98, Peterson 0-2-0-0.
RECEIVING — R: Freddie Manning 4-45, Singletary 1-28, Ronald Coleman 1-2, Herring 1-0. C: Jace Hoskey 3-51, Peterson 3-28, Keeven Young 1-12, Brae Deal 1-7.