Moments after his devastated players picked themselves off their home field for an excruciating handshake line, Riverdale coach Rob Hinson could offer no comment beside simple, painful disbelief.
“We deserved to win the game,” Hinson said, politely declining any other questions.
Across the field, South Fort Myers reveled in what would have been inconceivable if it hadn’t seemed so inevitable.
Down 28-6 at halftime after being bludgeoned by a tougher, hungrier opponent for two quarters, the Wolfpack scored the only points of the second half to force a 28-28 tie, then delivered the final spear through Riverdale’s heart on Conner Kammerlocher’s dead-center, 35-yard field goal as time expired.
“We believed in each other and we believed in our team,” South coach Grant Redhead said through intense, almost-clenched teeth after the District 6A-11 win. “We’re a family. We just did that together.”
Behind sophomore tailback Van Edwards’ 200 first-half yards and two touchdowns on only 13 carries, Riverdale (3-3, 1-2) piled up 274 rushing yards at the break. South (6-0, 2-0) had little more than senior tailback Robert Brown’s 69-yard breakaway touchdown run to show for itself in the first half.
“We just came out flatter than a pancake,” said Redhead, whose team had beaten opponents with a combined record of 3-21 this season by a score of 208-9. “This is too good a football team to take for granted. We weren’t tough.”
Brown’s second breakaway run, a 62-yarder, on South’s second play of the second half cut the gap to 28-13, but the 5-8, 160-pound Edwards continued to pound the ball for Riverdale.
The Raiders marched 10 plays down to the South 3 yard line. But a fumble on a mishandled snap forced a field goal try from 26 yards. The kick went wide right to keep the score 28-13 late in the third quarter.
Three plays later, South quarterback Andrew Dailidonis hit fellow senior Eddie Collins on a hitch route near midfield. Riverdale overran the tackle, and Collins spun and went 68 yards to cut the deficit to 28-20.
Riverdale senior Edwin Etienne thwarted South’s next possession, sacking Dailidonis from behind and forcing a fumble that the Raiders recovered inside their own 10.
But unable to pass after churning four minutes of clock, Riverdale punted with 4:05 to play. South capitalized when freshman receiver Willie Johnson went up between two defenders on 3rd and 21 from the Riverdale 48 and hauled in a 45-yard Dailidonis pass to set up Dailidonis’ 1-yard TD run.
“I just followed it in and caught it,” Johnson said.
After Dailidonis hit Dakota Phillips on a misdirection slant for the two-point conversion to tie the game with 2:24 to play, Riverdale ran twice for five yards and threw incomplete on a deep pass that the home side screamed was defensive pass interference.
From the Riverdale 48, South ran four plays to the Riverdale 18 to set up Kammerlocher’s game-winner.