MURFREESBORO — Third downs led to touchdowns early and often for Riverdale Friday night. And the Warriors’ final positive run of the game emphasized just how productive they were on that down in a 42-21 win against visiting Siegel.
Trying to kill clock and fend off a feisty Stars squad, Riverdale faced third-and-22 from its own 33. Austin Bryant broke through the line, took off down the left sideline, and his 42-yard gain helped seal the Region 2-6A victory. It was the Warriors’ (5-2, 3-1) seventh third-down conversion in 12 attempts, and they converted at least one third down on five of their six touchdown drives.
“That play just symbolized what we were coming out here trying to do; don’t give up,” said Bryant, who rushed 28 times for 221 yards and scores of 55 and 19 yards. “We’ve been working on finishing all year. Coach (Ron Aydelott) has been on us to finish opponents off, and I think that play just showed that we’re out here trying to finish teams off once we get on top of them.”
The seven third downs helped lead to 20 first downs for the Warriors. Quarterback Brandon Bea had a hand in 10 of those. He passed for eight first downs, rushed for two more, and had 183 of his 200 yards come on plays that collected first downs.
“Converting on third down is huge. If you’re able to convert on third down it’s great,” said Bea, who rushed for touchdowns of 20 and 8 yards and added an 18-yard TD pass to Canaan Owens and a 6-yarder to Austin Valentine. “But our mentality is that we don’t want third down. We want to keep moving that ball and do our offense.”
A 7-0 Riverdale lead was extended to 21-0 in a matter of nine plays.
The Stars (0-7, 0-4) had marched to the Warrior 35, but a Greedy Howse jump pass on fourth-and-5 ended the drive. Bea picked up the first of the 10 first downs he had a hand in on a 12-yard pass to Jarek Campbell, and Siegel being hit with a 15-yard personal foul on the play helped out a little bit more. Five plays later, Bea ran in from the 20, dragging defenders the final 5 yards. The Stars began the ensuing drive on their own 4, fumbled on the first play, and two plays later Bea was in on another keeper for a 21-0 lead.
The lead ballooned to 35-0 and a running clock after Bryant’s 19-yard TD capped a nine-play, 80-yard drive to open the second half. However, Siegel managed to stop the running clock with three fourth-quarter scores — an 80-yard TD pass from Jordan Middleton to Ricco Gregory, and two 5-yard touchdowns from Howse.
“That’s the thing I’m the proudest about our kids: we didn’t quit,” Stars coach Greg Wyant said. “We fought til the very last whistle and that’s something we’ve got to continue to do.”