SALEM – Tammy Diehl not only went through the range of emotions Saturday afternoon in Salem, but she has experienced the ups and downs of sports over the past six seasons.
Before the game, she stood on the front row of the bleachers holding a sign that read, “Some only dream of meeting their favorite player. I raised mine. 2010 #15. 2014 #4.”
In 2010, she watched her oldest son, Lance, help Riverheads win a state championship, the school’s third. She was hoping to watch another son, Landon, add to the family legacy with a state title Saturday against Galax. However, that wasn’t to be as Riverheads fell 7-6, failing to convert on a pass for two on the final play of the game.
“Sadness,” said Tammy Diehl, who left the stands at the start of the first quarter and spent the game walking the sideline, waving a red Riverheads Gladiators flag. “Lots of sadness because Landon wanted it so badly for himself and his team. Following in his brother’s footsteps and knowing what an honor it is and trying to fill big shoes, in his mind … this is what he has worked so hard for. To get this far and this close and just have it slip away, it’s heartbreaking.”
The mom remembers watching her oldest son’s Riverheads team beat Eastern Montgomery 63-49 in 2010. She described it as like watching a tennis match. There was nothing but joy after that game, but following Saturday’s game Diehl had trouble holding back the tears as she watched her son and his teammates accept the runner-up trophy.
“It’s still exciting that these boys have made it this far,” she said.
The Riverheads fans were out in force Saturday, with many arriving several hours before the noon kickoff. And they were ready to watch their 13-0 Gladiators try for a fourth title under head coach Robert Casto.
Beverley Logwood was standing in the parking lot of Salem Stadium Saturday morning, getting ready to watch her son, Thomas Hepstall, and his teammates play for the title. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year, according to the so-called experts, but here they were, playing for a state championship.
“I think that everybody was surprised,” said Logwood. “But overall, that’s just what they do every year. Coach Casto always seems to pull it out, no matter who it is.”
Andrea Tinsley was tailgating also. She has Casto as a physical education teacher. The Riverheads senior said he’s very intense.
“It’s all got to be done one way with him,” she said. “It’s his way or the highway.”
“But it gets results,” Logwood added from behind Tinsley.
Kathy Funk is Hepstall’s grandmother. She is a 1978 graduate of Riverheads, but Saturday’s game was the first football state championship game she had a chance to watch in person.
“Pride doesn’t even start,” said Funk. “To watch the history of these children as they’ve gone all the way through, amazing.”
Greg Schultz was donning his red-and-white striped overalls in support of Riverheads. His son, Garrett Schultz, is a member of the Gladiators team.
“Our kids never die,” said Schultz. “They’ve never died all year. It’s heartbreaking for the end, but they didn’t quit.”
Schultz said he knew Casto would try for two at the end instead of settling for overtime. He said it was a great call. Casto has always maintained he would go for the win in that situation. He did just that Saturday, but came up short.
John Agnor approached Saturday’s state championship game with mixed emotions. An hour before kickoff, he was standing outside the gates of the stadium with his son, Tripp, who graduated from Riverheads last year. He reflected on his younger son, Ben, who was supposed to be the star running back for Riverheads this year. That ended after an injury in the first game of the season against Robert E. Lee.
Ben Agnor thought he could return, but practicing to return to play in week three against Waynesboro, he tore his ACL and was done for the season. Watching that Waynesboro game and knowing his son wouldn’t play another down in high school wasn’t easy for Agnor.
“I went in the stands like normal,” he said. “I’ve got a ritual. I get there early. I went to every practice since they were tiny. The first game when he walked out on the field and he was on the crutches and hobbling across, I got really emotional. I had to walk out for a little bit.”
Still, John Agnor said all the players on the team were like his own, and he wanted nothing more than a state championship for them. Ben stood on the sideline, dressed in khakis, but wearing his No. 8 jersey. Unfortunately for the Agnors, that state title wasn’t to be.
Sandy and Pete Riner both had “#40” painted in red on their cheeks, in support of their grandson, Harrison Schaefer. They waited for the players with other Riverheads fans after the game, standing on the hill overlooking the field.
“That team [Riverheads] is number one, no matter what,” said Pete Riner. “They are the top of the line. They hadn’t lost no games [until Saturday], the emotions are high, but they’re a good bunch of young men. They’re the best.”
Sandy Riner added, “They played hard all the way to the end. They fought hard. And they’ll come back again next year.”