The Battle of the Bell wasn’t much of a game on Friday night at Memorial Stadium in Lehigh.
About everything that could have gone wrong in the annual rivalry for Riverdale did, and almost everything that Lehigh tried worked to perfection.
Lehigh scored 17 seconds into the third quarter, forced turnovers on the Raiders’ next four possessions and then capitalized on three of them to blow the door open in a 42-2 win. It was the Lightning’s second straight victory in the series.
“Our defense really played lights out tonight,” said Lightning coach James Chaney, whose team goes on the road in the Class 6A playoffs for the first time since 2011. “We had some tough outings over the season, but honestly we’ve been playing really well throughout the year.”
Riverdale (2-7), which turned the ball over six times and lost four fumbles, closed its 2016 season.
“We’ve played well in spurts,” Chaney said. “But tonight I think it all came together.”
Jeff Augustin, Mardochee Simon and Jacquez Brown all had fumble recoveries in the third quarter for the Lightning, which enters the postseason on a four-game winning streak. The District 6A-11 runner-ups will face Naples at Eagles Stadium on Nov. 11.
With the win, Lehigh (6-3) clinched its most wins since the 2009 season. The Lightning did so without junior running back and leading rusher Chris Curry, who broke his left foot last week in a game against Estero.
Senior tailback Jalane Nelson more than made up for the difference, having one of his best games of the season with a 145 yards and two touchdowns, including a 39-yard score with 3:47 left in the third quarter that opened the game up to a running clock.
He exploded through holes in the second half to give Lehigh a powerful run game.
“The offensive line blocked really good in the second half,” said Nelson, who had 102 yards in second half alone. “I just stop tip-toeing through holes and hit them hard.”
Nelson was named Lehigh’s offensive player of the game in the Battle of the Bell series, which was in its 22nd installment, while the Lightning’s Chris Pierre was named defensive MVP.
The night belonged mostly to the Lightning defense, which swarmed Riverdale senior quarterback Daniel Ulmer into multiple sacks, several fumbles and a stat line of 3 for 11 with two interceptions.
Junior Jartavius Martin had one of the team’s two picks.
Riverdale’s Malcolm Spencer finished the game with 63 yards on 13 carries.
Lehigh, which combined for 405 yards of total offense, opened the second half with an 88-yard kickoff return by Arthur Nance — which was placed back to Riverdale’s 17 on a holding penalty — before the Lightning scored four plays later on a 1-yard run by Delshawn Green.
Lehigh’s sophomore quarterback was nearly flawless in the air, too, going 8 of 10 for 165 yards and two touchdowns. He hooked up with receiver Russell Brown for a 55 yard score in the second quarter that pushed the lead to 14-2.
Lehigh exploded for four scores in a span of seven minutes in the third quarter.
Nance hauled in a 55-yard pass, while Nelson two more scores just minutes later.
“It’s an amazing feeling to win this game,” Nelson said. “Everyone always doubts Lehigh, but it feels good to be a part of this history.”
LEHIGH 42, RIVERDALE 2
R 2 0 0 0 —2
L 7 7 28 0—42
R — Safety, 8:13
L — Arthur Nance 35 fumble return (Marlon Morales kick), 2:38
L — Russell Brown 55 pass from Delshawn Green (Morales kick), 11:50
L — Green 1 run (Morales kick), 10:43
L — Jeff Augustin 45 pass from Green (Morales kick), 6:10
L — Jalane Nelson 11 run (Morales kick), 4:58
L — Nelson 39 run (Morales kick), 3:47
Rushing — R, Malcolm Spencer 13-63, Keenan Walker 5-16, Keichard Green 5-18, Daniel Ulmer 6-2; L, Jalane Nelson 20-145, Malique Jackson 1-11, Delshawn Green 10-6.
Passing — R, Ulmer 3-11-2-33; L, Green 8-10-1-165.
Receiving — R, Dante Quintella 3-33; L, Russell Brown 2-61, Jackson 1-32, Jeff Augustin 2-61, D’Marquise Collins 2-5, Nelson 1-6.