WYTHEVILLE – Riverheads’ Harrison Schaefer had trouble finding running room in the first half of Saturday’s Group 1A state semifinal game against George Wythe.
The junior finished the first half with just three yards on seven carries and his team wasn’t running much better. After punishing the Wythe defense on the opening drive of the game, putting together a 60-yard scoring drive — with 56 of the yards coming from Landon Diehl — Riverheads had just 110 yards on the next four possessions and went into the locker room tied 7-7.
Things changed in the second half though. Schaefer had 158 yards on the ground in the final two quarters and scored on a 34-yard run as Riverheads pulled away for a 31-20 win.
The win sets up a meeting with Galax next Saturday in Salem for the 1A state championship. Riverheads and its coach, Robert Casto, will be looking for their fourth state title. The Gladiators won it all in 2000, 2006 and 2010.
Galax (10-4) is the number three seed in 1A West, but upset the 1A East top-seed Essex Saturday 35-20. Galax started the season 1-4, but is on a nine-game winning streak since then.
After shutting out its first two opponents in the postseason this year, Riverheads gave up its first points of the playoffs on a 68-yard touchdown pass from Deacon Beamer to Markell Moss with 3:35 left in the first half. That tied the game, matching Riverheads’ touchdown on a 7-yard run by Diehl early in the first quarter.
Schaefer came into the game having scored at least two touchdowns in the team’s first 12 games this season. But a 5-yard carry on the first play of Riverheads’ second possession was his longest run of the first half.
However, the second time he touched the ball in the third quarter, Schaefer ripped off a 32-yard run to the George Wythe 29. He added a 13-yard run later in the possession and Colt Miller capped the drive, bulling his way up the middle from a 1-yard score.
Riverheads defense forced a three-and-out and then built a 21-7 lead on Diehl’s second score. Quarterback Garrett Campbell got into the act on that drive, getting runs of 19, 13 and 2 on the drive. He also completed a pass to Taz Miller in the first half, one of only two passes Riverheads tried in the game.
George Wythe, who won state championships in 2002 and 2012, answered quickly. Just like the long touchdown pass in the first half, it was the big play that produced results. Moss returned the kickoff 88 yards for a score, cutting the Maroons deficit to a touchdown.
Riverheads came right back, moving the ball 68 yards to score. On 4th-and-12, Schaefer broke the hearts of the George Wythe fans when he hit paydirt from 34 yards out to put Riverheads back in front by 14.
George Wythe scored once more, but the extra point failed and, with Riverheads leading by eight, kicker Tristan Robson sealed the deal with a 32-yard field goal that easily sailed through the uprights, giving Riveheads the final points of the game.
Riverheads is now giving up 11.5 points a game this season, the fourth best average over the last 17 years and scoring 42.8 points a game, the third-best average in the span. Only the 2011 and 2012 teams scored more points per game than this Riverheads team, but this Gladiators squad still has one game left.
Only one of Riverheads three state championship teams has finished unbeaten with the 2000 team going 14-0. That’s a feat Riverheads would match if it wins next week against Galax.
Riverheads 7 0 14 10 — 31
George Wythe 0 7 7 6 — 20
RHS — Diehl 7 run (Robson kick)
GW — Moss 68 pass from Beamer (Russell kick)
RHS — Colt Miller 1 run (Robson kick)
RHS — Diehl 3 run (Robson kick)
GW — Moss 88 kickoff return (Russell kick)
RHS — Schaefer 34 run (Robson kick)
GW — Hardin 5 run (kick failed)
RHS — Robson 32 field goa