BUFFALO GAP — Before the game Saturday night, Buffalo Gap public address announcer Phillip Morgan asked how to pronounce Joshua Anikiwui’s name. He was told not to worry, the player wouldn’t get in the game.
I guess the person saying that didn’t expect Riverheads to be leading by 35 points in the second half. Really, who did?
Most people thought Riverheads would win. The News Leader has 10 people who pick football games every week. All but one chose Riverheads. But I’m guessing no one thought the Gladiators would win by 42 points.
There are very few people who would argue that Riverheads football is a special program. But what they do on the field isn’t all that special.
Ask Riverheads’ coach Robert Casto about their game plan and he will tell you, “We do what we do.” And what they do is pretty basic — buck sweep, fullback trap and waggle. Those are the base plays the Gladiators run. Plays every player already knows by heart the first day they step on the field as a varsity player. They’ve been running those plays for years by the time they make varsity.
Talk to any opposing coach before their team faces Riverheads and they’ll tell you they know what’s coming. Of course, stopping it is, well, another problem altogether.
And, in the regular season, no one has stopped it in almost three years. After beating Buffalo Gap 49-7 Saturday night — a game delayed one night by rain — Riverheads has won 28 regular-season games in a row. The last loss came in 2013 when Wilson Memorial beat the Red Pride.
In fact, outside of Wilson, no team has beaten Riverheads in the regular season in more than six years. The Gladiators are 62-2 in regular-season games since losing to Stuarts Draft to start the 2010 season.
Honestly, do you think anyone will beat them this year before the playoffs? Maybe East Rockingham has a chance next week. And perhaps Stuarts Draft to end the season. Maybe. Probably not, though.
The Gladiators know that standing on top of the mountain, at least in the Shenandoah Valley, means everyone wants to knock them off. Casto knows it, not that he worries a heck of a lot about it.
“We just happen to be that team that everybody wants to bring their ‘A’ game and they want to beat,” he said last week before the Bison game. “We understand that.”
Saturday night, Gap didn’t have it’s ‘A’ game, falling behind 14-0 early. But a couple of minutes into the second quarter Buffalo Gap was driving and you got the feeling that, if they could score, maybe things would change.
And then Riverheads’ Brett Hostetler picked off a pass at his own 19 and raced to the end zone.
“That was mo,” said Casto.
In classic Casto style, he has three words to say about the biggest play of the game, the play that ended any chance Gap had of pulling off the upset, the play that gave Riverheads all the momentum, or mo as Casto called it.
After the Hostetler play mo never left the Red Pride’s side.
Coming into the game, Riverheads was giving up just over eight points a game. Buffalo Gap’s defense was doing even better, at least statistically, by giving up just 4.75 points a contest. With both teams averaging around 40 points a game offensively, something had to give. What gave was the Bison defense. A unit that hadn’t given up more than seven points in any one game this year gave up two first-quarter touchdowns and was down 35-0 at halftime.
“It wasn’t a whole of of fun,” Buffalo Gap coach Andy Cline said. That is the early leader in the clubhouse for understatement of the year.
Now, Buffalo Gap must find a way to regroup because it has to go on the road to play unbeaten Stuarts Draft Friday night.
Riverheads must guard against overconfidence. I’ll pause for a moment while you laugh. Overconfidence is never a problem in Greenville. Last week, I asked Casto about the pressure of coaching a team that is expected to compete for a state championship every single season. It was another classic Casto answer.
“I don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying all that stuff,” he said. “That’s just talk out of people.”
That talk will only heat up after what Riverheads did to Buffalo Gap Saturday night.