DeGRAFF — Riverside was looking for a return to the playoffs in 2017 after missing in 2016. It didn’t look like an easy task with six returning starters and a nonconference schedule that featured Ohio Heritage Conference power Mechanicsburg and Central Buckeye Conference power Indian Lake.
And though the Pirates struggled early, they rebounded in Northwest Central Conference play, finished 6-4 and earned a postseason berth.
Though Riverside lost most of its starters from 2016’s 7-3 squad, it returned one key player in Gaven Anderson. Anderson, who was a senior last year, rushed for nearly 500 yards on 62 carries and had 66 total tackles and three sacks as a junior.
Anderson had a huge senior season to help Riverside earn a playoff berth, and junior running back Luke Roby emerged to help the Pirates turn into one of the best offenses in the NWCC.
Riverside started the season with a 26-17 road win over Ansonia. The Pirates took a 14-0 halftime lead, but a long touchdown pass and field goal pulled the Tigers within 14-9. Ansonia scored on another long touchdown pass and made a two-point conversion to pull within 20-17 late in the fourth, but Riverside scored again to pull away.
Anderson ran for 139 yards on 14 carries against Ansonia and Roby ran for 101 yards on 15 carries. It was the first of several big games for the duo.
The Pirates didn’t have much offense the next two weeks, though. Mechanicsburg won a Week 2 nonconference game in DeGraff 33-0 and Indian Lake won a Week 3 nonconference game in Lewistown 23-0. The Pirates had around 100 yards of offense in both games.
Anderson didn’t play against Mechanicsburg and had one carry against Indian Lake. Starting in a Week 4 game against Marion Elgin, though, he went on a six-week tear that opposing defenses couldn’t stop.
Riverside beat Elgin 53-20 on the road in its NWCC opener in Week 4. In six carries, Anderson ran for four touchdowns and 283 yards. Roby ran for 117 yards on seven carries and scored two touchdowns.
The NWCC running clock victories kept coming for the Pirates. They beat Hardin Northern 54-14 in Week 5, Waynesfield-Goshen 48-6 in Week 6 and Upper Scioto Valley 32-0 in Week 7. The Pirates had over 500 yards of offense against Hardin Northern and over 400 yards in the other two games. Anderson ran for over 100 yards in each game, including a 266-yard performance against Waynesfield.
The four consecutive NWCC victories gave Riverside a 5-2 record heading into a home Week 8 game against Lima Perry. Perry lost its first three games but had won four in a row. It was a big contest for NWCC title implications, as Riverside, Perry and Lehman Catholic were all undefeated entering Week 8.
Riverside played Perry close but lost 29-20. Anderson ran for 144 yards on 16 carries and scored two touchdowns while Roby ran for 94 yards on 10 carries and scored one touchdown.
Riverside beat Ridgemont 45-7 in Week 9. The Pirates amassed 390 yards on the ground, with Anderson and Roby again having a big night. Roby ran for 128 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries while Anderson ran for 124 yards and one touchdown on four carries.
The Pirates hosted Lehman Catholic in Week 10. The Cavaliers, which ran through the NWCC, quickly put away Riverside. Lehman scored three touchdowns in the second quarter to take a 35-6 lead. The Cavaliers held Anderson to 39 yards in the 45-14 win — his lowest output of the season. Roby ran for 116 yards on 11 carries.
Riverside finished sixth in Division VII, Region 28 with its 6-4 record and earned a road playoff game with Delphos St. John’s. The Pirates quickly took to the air against the Bluejays and found early success, as the game was tied 21-21 at halftime.
Before the playoff game, Riverside had attempted 60 passes all season. Riverside freshman quarterback Kale Long completed 8 of 11 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns in the first half to help the squad keep place with St. John’s.
The Bluejays pulled away in the second half, though, scoring two rushing touchdowns in the third quarter and a passing in the fourth. St. John’s also returned an interception for a touchdown to secure the 48-21 win, which ended Riverside’s season and dropped the Pirates to 6-5.
Anderson finished with 1,325 rushing yards on 97 carries — a 13.7 yard per carry average. He ran for 16 touchdowns and also had 47 tackles and three sacks. Roby ran for 944 yards on 114 carries and ran for nine touchdowns. Also a middle linebacker, Roby had 55 tackles and one sack.
Anderson was selected first team all-NWCC after the season, as was senior defensive lineman Gavin Stallard. Stallard had 79 tackles and five sacks.
Riverside senior offensive tackle Andrew Racine and linebacker Nick Hall were second-team selections. Hall, a senior, had 104 total tackles and five sacks.
Anderson was also named first team all-Southwest district as a running back.
The Pirates will open the 2018 season at home on Aug. 24 against Ansonia.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.