Rachal’s three touchdowns lift Rebels over Winnfield

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 24, 2009

By Ryan Arena


RESERVE – Riverside had lost both its early lead and the momentum late in the third quarter of Friday night’s Class 2A regional round game with Winnfield. Trailing by a touchdown, Riverside needed a game-changer.

Enter Darnell Rachal.

The junior quarterback’s elusive and electric 41-yard touchdown run cut Winnfield’s lead to one, and his 1-yard rushing score in the fourth quarter lifted the No. 25 seeded Rebels to a 21-14 win over the ninth seeded Tigers.

“You could see guys on our team, once we went down 14-7, say ‘Let’s go get this thing now.’ It’s a sign of leadership, a sign tradition and it’s what we expect,” said Roussel. “This is a special team and a special place to be.”

Rachal ran for all three Rebel scores and added a two-point conversion run.

“Number seven (Rachal) took over the game in the fourth quarter,” said Roussel.

After a first half in which Riverside (8-4) missed a number of opportunities to score, Winnfield (8-4) surged ahead late in the third quarter after a shanked Rebel punt traveled only 11 yards – the tigers took over at the RA 34-yard line. 10 plays – all rushes – later, quarterback Alonzo Moore scored on a keeper sweep to put the Tigers ahead 14-7 with 2:35 left in the quarter.

But it wasn’t long before Rachal made the play of the night.

The Rebels drove to the Winnfield 41 in six plays before Rachal dropped back on the seventh. Seeing nothing he liked downfield, he pulled the ball down and scrambled, rushing first to his right, then to his left. He shook free from a Winnfield defender in the backfield, raced down the sideline, received a key block from Thomas Crouch, and dove successfully for the pylon to make it 14-13 with 15 seconds left in the third period.

Riverside’s point after kick attempt was no good, but the Rebels were back in business.

“I didn’t see anyone open, so I ran it,” said Rachal. “I felt a guy coming up behind me at the end of the run, so I just dove for it. I knew we had to come up with a big play. We needed a spark.”

Said Roussel: “I couldn’t tell you how many tackles he broke on that play. He just wouldn’t be denied.”

Winnfield began its ensuing drive at its own 31, and seemed to be picking up where it left off, methodically driving down the field relying on Moore and a stable of rushers. Facing a fourth-and-four from the RA 30, though, Moore was stuffed by the Rebels’ Grady Gieger.

That momentum carried over for Riverside. Crouch immediately sprang loose for a 52-yard run to the Winnfield 21.

On a third-and-two from the 13, Rachal busted a 10-yarder to the 3. Nathan Williams nearly scored on the next play, and Rachal capped it with a run up the middle out of the shotgun.

That made it 19-14 with 5:45 remaining. He’d add a two-point conversion run – in which he also evaded a potential loss – to make it a seven-point advantage.

Winnfield had two more chances. On the first, the Tigers drove to the 45 before being faced with another fourth-and-four. Gieger again came up big, stopping a Moore run for no gain.

“We came together as a defense,” said Rebels defensive lineman Andrew Vicknair. “It took a lot of guts.”

Linebacker Cody Warner would officially end things with an interception on Winnfield’s last drive.

“Coach told me to watch the slot guy, and the seam route,” said Warner. “I saw it coming…I was thinking touchdown, but when I saw five seconds left, I just dropped to the ground.”

Riverside scored on its first drive of the game on a 5-yard Rachal run to make it 7-0.

Winnfield tied the game on D.K. Hendrix’s 1-yard run that followed a 64-yard pass from Moore to Jeremy Bridgewater.

The Rebels found themselves inside Winnfield territory four more times in the first half – including twice inside the 20 – but came away with no points. It wouldn’t matter in the end.

Roussel noted before the game that he believed his team was not only playing its best ball over the last month, but that his young team was finally starting to understand what “Riverside football” is all about.

Rachal certainly had an idea of it.

“It’s all about heart,” he said. “You have to have it in you. We did tonight.”