The road to both a league championship and a conference title ended for an award-winning semipro football team.
Leading the Mason Dixon Football League in several categories, it was not enough for the Northern Neck Rivermen to escape their first loss of the season in the North Conference Championship, 21-20, to the Arbutus Big Red.
Rivermen Head Coach Dennis Cornwell sent out the field goal unit to ice the game led by kicker Barrett Hollingsworth to knock down a 24-yard field goal. But when the kick went up in the final 20
seconds of the game, it drifted left of the goal post. Hollingsworth was 0-3 on the night for field goal attempts.
“On fourth down I had to make a decision go for it or kick a field goal and we make those all the time. Barrett did not have a good night, but that’s not on him. He’s made his kicks all year. We should’ve been put in that opportunity to do that,” Cornwell said.
What began as a scoreless first quarter for both teams, turned into an exchange of scoring drives for a shot at the north conference championship and bid in the league championship in November. Plays soon followed with key players being lost to injury during the game.
But Rivermen quarterback Walt Covington would respond first after some frustrating drives to start the game. In the second quarter, Covington connected with wide receiver Jermaine Weldon for a 75-yard touchdown reception to give the Rivermen a 6-0 lead over the Big Red. The extra point was blocked. Before halftime wide receiver Tim Short caught a four-yard pass in the corner of the endzone from Convington.
The score came following a 70-yard rushing performance by running backs Mike Vann and Adeola Ogunwenmo including a 42-yard run from Vann.
The two-point conversion attempt was no good leaving the Rivermen ahead 12-0 at halftime.
Big Red held the Rivermen scoreless on their first drive and even forced Covington to cough up an interception to start the half. But the Rivermen defense returned the favor forcing a bad snap by the Big Red on a punt attempt. The ball went out of bounds in the endzone. Officials gave the Rivermen two-points for the safety leaving the Rivermen with 14-0 lead over Big Red.
The Arbutus offense soon took to drawing some points on the board midway through the third quarter. Big Red marched 52 yards down the field on great field position highlighted by quarterback Stewart Long connecting with wide receiver Michael Corbett for a 44-yard reception. Four plays later, running back Brian Chapman capped off the drive running from five yards out for a touchdown. The extra point was good to cut to the Rivermen lead, 14-7.
Both teams continued to exchange drives with no scores ending the third quarter. Alex Teague and Mario Epps highlighted the Big Red defense punting a block and recovering it. But the Rivermen defense responded forcing a fumble in the redzone, recovered by Justin Kelly.
Early in the fourth quarter, Big Red would take the lead following a 43-yard drive and capping it off with a touchdown run from one-yard out from Chapman. Kelvin Collins scored on the two-point conversion attempt to give the Big Red a 15-14 lead with 6:17 left in regulation.
Both teams exchanged drives with no score in the four-minute time span. With 2:53 left in the fourth quarter, the Rivermen put together a drive for another score compliments of Derrick Manning, Covington and Vann. Manning caught a 34-yard reception from Covington and Vann brushed off defenders for a 27-yard touchdown. The field goal was blocked, but the Rivermen were in the lead again, 20-15.
The celebration from players and fans would soon be silenced with 1:48 left in regulation. On the first play of the drive for the Big Red, Corbett caught a 57-yard touchdown pass from Long to strip the soon-to-be victory away from the Rivermen. The two-point attempt was no good leaving the score in favor of the visiting Big Red, 21-20, with 1:31 left in the fourth quarter.
The Rivermen offense started at the 50-yard line for one shot at another score. Covington connected with three receivers for a total of 43 yards. The Rivermen were seven yards away with a fresh set of downs when Vann ran for seven yards to the Big Red’s two-yard line. With the clock ticking, Covington spiked the ball with 26.6 seconds left in regulation, but on the ensuing play the team was backed up five yards after failing to get out of the huddle quick enough.
In the final pass attempt of the night, Covington’s pass to Short was bounced off the receiver and forced one more attempt by the Rivermen.
In the ensuing play, Hollingsworth’s 14-yard field goal attempt was no good after it drifted left of goal post. Arbutus had reason to celebrate on Saturday evening. Coach Ulander Giles and the Big Red ended the game taking a knee and earning a bid to the Mason Dixon Football League Championship in November.
“That’s a very good [Rivermen] team. We had to take that because they didn’t give us anything,” Giles said. “Dennis is an excellent coach. He has some very good ball players and I would love to have half of them on my team.”
The Rivermen ended the season with an 11-1 record and undefeated during the regular season for the first time in the organization’s four-year history. Big Red was defeated twice in the regular season by the North Division Champion Rivermen by a combined score of 42-19.
Arbutus will face the winner of the South Conference Championship in November.
“It was a great run and excellent one. I’m really proud of these guys,” Cornwell said. “Still an undefeated season and win the first round and it came down to the end. We could’ve won it.”
ARB 0 0 7 14—21
RIV 0 12 2 6—20
Passing: ARB—Stewart Long 6-13-165 TD; RIV—Walt Covington 13-27-238 2INT 2TD
Receiving: ARB—Jeffery Hall 1-1, Brian Chapman 2-26, Michael Corbett 2-101 TD, John Schroen 2-26, Ronald Green 1-11; RIV—T. Short 4-43 TD, David Jackson 1-42, Jermaine Weldon 4-107 TD, Derrick Manning 1-34 and Joshua Steele 1-12
Running: ARB—Blake Scott 2-6, Stewart Long 6-24(-3), Alan Singletary 11-51(-7), Brian Chapman 11-25 TD; RIV—Adeola Ogunwenmo 6-25(-4), Mike Howard 2-56, Tim Short 4-16(-2) and Mike Vann 14-106(-5)