(Peachtree City, Ga.) The Riverwood Raiders are looking to return to the GHSA state football playoffs for the second year in a row under Head Coach Robert Edwards. This has been a rebuilding effort for the second-year coach after losing key pieces of last years team, including Aaron Graham who is now at Jacksonville State, Trey Young at Florida State and Reese White who is at Coastal Carolina. While the current edition of the Raiders is a work in process, after their win on Friday night against McIntosh 43-14, they are exactly where they were at this point last season at 2-0 and appear to have simply reloaded.
The Chiefs have been snake-bitten the last two years with injuries. After qualifying for the state playoffs two years ago, they lost 2017 Fayette County Player of the year and starting quarterback Dane Kinamon early last season (Kinamon is now playing at the Air Force Academy). In their opening game of 2019, they had a scary moment when starting linebacker Ryan Foncannon was taken off the field in an ambulance with a neck injury.
Both teams are building towards the grind of the upcoming region schedule, so their Friday game was a good barometer to see how much they have improved over their openers. The first half played exactly into the Chiefs hands, they were looking to neutralize the faster and more athletic Raiders with methodical ball control. After McIntosh punter Adrien Richez kick bounced off a defender’s leg, the Chiefs recovered and took advantage of a short field to take a 7-0 lead on a Hayes Herzog 16-yard TD pass to Andrew Villiger.
Riverwood finally got on the board when quarterback Avery Smith found Austin Simmons on a broken play for a 41-yard TD pass that just eluded safety Burton Hahn’s fingertips. After a two-point conversion off the swinging gate formation, the Raiders held an 8-7 lead. They looked to add to that lead right before the half, but Chief defensive back Isaiah Mintah created a turnover inside the Chief 10-yard line.
Holding onto a one-point lead, the Raiders dominated the third quarter and scored on four consecutive possessions to take control of the game. Freshman running back Quinterio Lawson scored on a one-yard TD plunge, Simmons caught another TD pass from Smith, this one for 70-yards, another Lawson TD run of 6-yards and then Smith got a TD with his speed, a six-yard run. Suddenly a one-point game was now a 36-7 game.
McIntosh Head Coach Lee Belknap’s squad never gave up, they responded in the final frame with an eight-play, 48-yard TD drive that ended with a Trey King 12-yard pass to Carter Boicourt. After a defensive stop, they looked to make the game a bit closer, but Raider defensive back Jamel Johnson got a pick-six from 34-yards out for the final margin of 43-14.
One of the biggest factors of the game was the Riverwood defensive front. Michael Simon, David Badka, Kuntrevous Forbes and Georgia Tech commit Kyle Kennard shut down the McIntosh inside running game, which predicates their entire offensive philosophy.
Afterwards, Coach Edwards spoke of their big third quarter,
“We went back in and adjusted some things at halftime and got their minds right. The defense played well in the first half, but the offense wasn’t hitting on all cylinders. They came out in the second half and answered the bell. We blocked well, made some big plays and a couple of things bounced our way. I am excited for them”
Coach Belknap said after the game,
“We had one bad quarter of football, a 10-minute span that ruined the night for us, that was the game right there. We got to find a way, whether that is improvement on our part, maturity on our part or leadership on our part, whatever it is, we have to get it fixed. Our team has done everything we have asked them to do, we just need it to show up on the scoreboard.”
The Raiders employed two sophomore quarterbacks during the game with great success. Smith and Burke Cigelske combined for 307 passing yards with 2 TDs. Senior receivers Simmons and Korbin Lane both had over 100 receiving yards.
For the Chiefs, defensive tackle Jeffrey Burrell caused constant havoc and had several tackles for loss and Hahn broke up several passes from his safety spot. Matthew Allum lead with Chief offense with 45 yards rushing.
1-The Riverwood Raiders have played football since 1971. They have qualified for the state playoffs seven times, and have one playoff win in school history, a 30-26 first round win against Hiram. Jelani Jordan was the star for the Raiders that night , he scored on a 65-yard fumble recovery, an 85-yard kickoff return and threw a 76-yard TD pass. Jordan went on to play at Bowling Green and was a 2007 inductee into the Riverwood Hall-of-Fame.
2-While Riverwood Head Coach Robert Edwards is notorious for his exploits as a running back and defensive back at the University of Georgia and later in the NFL with New England Patriots, Raider offensive coordinator Andrico Hines was a star QB for the Riverdale Raiders. In 1998 he led them to an undefeated regular season before losing in the Georgia Dome 17-14 to Peach County in the state semi-finals. Hines was later the starting quarterback at Middle Tennessee State University.
3-McIntosh Head Coach Lee Belknap was a starting defensive back on the 1991 Cartersville Purple Hurricane state championship team coached by Mike Earwood. Coach Belknap is the all-time winning coach for the Peachtree City school, who has played football since 1982.
4-Riverwood Head Coach Edwards spent several minutes after the game with injured Chief Ryan Foncannon. Coach Edwards battled injuries in his career and knew some of the challenges Foncannon has ahead. Edwards said,
“Anytime you can give an encouraging word to someone, it helps. You never know how far that can take a person. I have been in his shoes.”
5-The Raiders return home this Friday to play the Kennesaw Mountain Lions while McIntosh will travel to McDonough to play the Warhawks in search of their first win of the season.
6-The Chiefs have some famous fathers on their roster, kicker William Mason’s dad was a kicker for Florida State (not the infamous wide-right kicker) and freshman Ian Fisher, who is getting a lot of playing time on the defensive line, comes from similar stock as his dad was a lineman for Steve Spurrier from 1989 to 1992 at Florida.