Rivermen advance to conference championship
The Northern Neck Rivermen had two options opening the first round of the conference playoffs last Saturday and they were to win or stay home. Not to overshadow the rest of the team’s efforts, it was instead the defense that made the final stance holding a 14-12 win over the Virginia Titans.
The defense has been known to make plays this season allowing the second lowest point total in the league. Saturday with three minutes left in the game they sought to do the same with a 14-12 lead as the offense went cold on their last three possessions.
Cornerback Larry Catlett, of the Northern Neck Rivermen.
In the eyes of the Virginia Titans, they were moving methodically down the field with the football and the Rivermen helping the cause earning a penalty to extend their drive. The Titans marched down the field for 47 yards led by quarterback Josh Floyd to the Rivermen’s 30-yard line. What did not help their attempt for a score was earning two penalties in the game that included an offensive pass interference call in the endzone leaving 46.3 seconds remaining in regulation.
With the Rivermen being able to take a short breath after a scary call, they were faced with a 4th-and-10 situation on their own 35-yard line. With his third straight pass attempt, the receiver was unable to hang on the ball after RJ Jones (Rappahannock) interrupted the defense and TJ Ford (Stafford) collected the ball from the air.
As he ran to avoid the Titans fans rejoiced as he was soon tackled and quarterback Walt Covington (Caroline) took a knee to end the game.
Last year the new Jersey Broncos knocked the Rivermen out of the playoffs.
“Last year we went out in the first round of the playoffs and we said we weren’t going to do that again. So we came out fighting and came back from behind to win,” Ford said.
In the first quarter, the visiting Titans took an early 6-0 lead silencing the Rivermen fan base.
This came after Covington’s pass ended up in the hands of cornerback Kasan Turner for a 15-yard return. Then on the ensuing drive, the Titans capitalized on an 82-yard drive with a 73-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Josh Floyd to receiver Dexter Manley.
Kicker Neil Orange failed to make the extra point.
The Rivermen offense would respond on a score on their second drive of game with running back Mike Vann running in from eight yards out. Kicker Barrett Hollingsworth (King George) added the extra point after a 50-yard drive and a 14-yard kick return by Tony Russell (Chancellor).
This gave the Rivermen a 7-6 lead at halftime until after both teams continued to exchange drives with no scores. Defensive back Derrick Manning highlighted the Rivermen defense with a 51-yard return for an interception, and Devonte Reynolds (Norfolk State) rushed Orange on a punt to leading to cornerback Larry Catlett (Fredericksburg) returning the block for an 18-yard return.
In the opening drive of the second half by the Titans, the visitors put up another touchdown on the Rivermen defense following a 91-yard drive. Floyd highlighted the drive after Reynolds pushed him out of bounds following a 56-yard run from scrimmage. Floyd would connect with his second receiver of the night in Terrance Buckingham four plays later for a seven-yard reception for a touchdown.
The game was delayed for 21 minutes after a Titans’ injury, but in response, the Rivermen returned to the field to take a 14-12 lead in the third quarter.
Tim Short caught his first touchdown reception from Covington after a 31-yard catch. Hollingsworth (King George) extra point kick capped off a 74-yard drive by the offense highlighted by a Short reception for 16-yards and Vann collecting 19 yards and Mike Howard returning a kick for 23 yards.
The defense was tested with the appearance of Titans’ standout receiver Dexter Manley who scored on the opening drive of the game. Catlett responded being switched to the receiver to one reception for 11 yards after 73-yard reception and targeted only three times the rest of the game.
“I just went out there, did the best I could and it worked to our advantage,” Catlett said. “It wasn’t a doubt in mind of losing just when we were going to turn it up and do what we normally do. The defense rose to the occasion, everything worked out for us, it was a blessing and I thank God for all of it.”
On Saturday, the Rivermen improved to 5-2 in their postseason history.
“It was definitely a tough game. The Titans definitely brought their best team up here and they had some guys we didn’t see in previous games that really made a difference,” Rivermen head coach Dennis Cornwell said. “We fought through the adversity and with the Titans coming to play we pulled it off. Hats off to the Titans and Rivermen for a good game.”
On defense, Laslow Pickett highlighted the evening by blocking a field goal attempt and recovering by Ford, RJ Jones (Rappahannock) also blocked a field goal. Dominic Fields, Reynolds and Manning each led the team with three solo tackles.
The Rivermen will host the North Conference Championship at King George High School on Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. Their opponent will be the Arbutus Big Red. During the season, the Rivermen swept the Big Red in two games. In the past four years, the teams are split each with a win in head-to-head playoff games. Big Red defeated the Virginia Silverbacks, in Arbutus, 12-6.
Should the Rivermen win, they will advance to the Mason Dixon Football League Championship to face the winner of the Southern Conference, Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. Site to be determined.