Riverside had a slow start in 2017 and rebounded to finish 6-4 in regular season and qualify for the playoffs.
Their 2018 campaign followed the same outline.
The Pirates were outscored 70-0 in their first two games but rebounded to win their next two and went on to finish 6-4 and earn their second consecutive playoff berth in Division VII, Region 28.
The Pirates returned five starters on both sides of the ball from the 2017 campaign and were without several key pieces from that season — including sophomore quarterback Kale Long, who had a couple of breakout performances late in the year. Long suffered an injury in the spring of 2018 and missed all of football season.
Still, coach Tim McGill was optimistic heading into the season.
“The expectation is to work hard each day,” McGill said. “We expect our kids to be accountable to each other, put the team first, put others first. We really preach that. Our focus is to get better tomorrow. Our concern is not with our opponents but with ourselves and our growth.”
It took a while for Riverside’s new players to get acclimated — but they eventually achieved their growth.
The squad lost 28-0 to Ansonia in Week 1 in De Graff. Senior Luke Roby led the squad on the ground (as he would for much of the season) with 108 rushing yards, but the squad managed 24 yards through the air and committed seven turnovers in the loss.
The Pirates lost in nonconference action in Week 2, as Ohio Heritage Conference power Mechanicsburg ran away late to a 42-0 victory. Riverside managed 152 yards of offense in the game.
Roby helped lead a much-improved effort in Week 3, though. He ran for three touchdowns and had five tackles to lead the Pirates to a 21-7 home nonconference win over neighboring Indian Lake. Riverside had 290 yards of offense and held the Lakers to 192.
The squad started Northwest Central Conference play in Week 4 and beat Marion Elgin 48-44 on the road in a shootout. Junior Brandon Sacks ran for 141 yards and four touchdowns while senior quarterback Joel Cotterman ran for 142 yards. The Pirates finished with 408 yards of offense, all of which came on the ground.
Riverside lost 34-33 at Hardin Northern in Week 5. The Polar Bears scored 20 points in the fourth quarter to rally and earn the win. Junior Darrick Cotterman ran for 224 yards and three touchdowns in the loss while Joel Cotterman ran for 98 and one TD and Sacks ran for 87. The Pirates had 464 yards of offense in the loss.
Riverside steamrolled over its next two opponents. The Pirates beat Waynesfield-Goshen 34-8 in De Graff in Week 6 and won 40-0 at Upper Scioto Valley the following week. Roby ran for 224 yards and three touchdowns against Waynesfield-Goshen. The team created five turnovers against Upper Scioto Valley, including an interception junior Levi Godwin returned for a touchdown.
Riverside then beat Perry 20-18 in Week 8 in Lima, as its wing-T attack thrived in wet and cold conditions. The Commodores led 18-13 at halftime but Joel Cotterman scored on a 2-yard run late in the third quarter to put the Pirates ahead for good. Roby ran for 182 yards in two touchdowns in the victory.
“We felt like we had to shorten the game. We felt like we had to keep the ball — run the ball and chew up the clock — and give ourselves an opportunity to win at the end,” McGill said after the win.
The Pirates then collected 376 yards of offense and cruised to a 49-0 home win over Ridgemont in Week 9 to improve to 6-3 overall and 5-1 in NWCC play to set up a Week 10 showdown with Lehman Catholic, which had an identical NWCC record.
The Cavaliers hosted Riverside on Thursday in Week 10 at Sidney Memorial Stadium. The Pirates stayed close early, but Lehman scored the last two touchdowns and won 21-7. Roby ran for 74 yards and scored the team’s lone touchdown.
Riverside finished sixth in Region 28 and earned its second consecutive playoff berth and a first-round game at Minster. The Wildcats built a five-touchdown lead by halftime and ran away to a 51-6 victory.
Roby was named first team all-Southwest District in D-VII after the season, as were lineman Jonathan McGill and RJ McGowan. All three were first team all-NWCC selections, as were Godwin, lineman Kayden Smith and lineman Mason Sacks. Roby finished with 1,031 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.
McGill resigned after the season, citing family reasons. The school hired Bryce Hodge as the program’s coach in February. Hodge, a 2011 Riverside graduate, had been an assistant coach the last several seasons and is also the head girls basketball coach.
Riverside will open the season on Aug. 30 at Ansonia.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.