Rebels seek Falcon payback

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, November 18, 2014


RESERVE — A year ago, St. Thomas Aquinas was the team ultimately slamming the brakes on what many expected to be a deep Riverside playoff run, upsetting the Rebels in Reserve 34-29 in an opening round game.

It could be time for payback — and it needs to be, if Riverside is to keep its dreams alive of earning the Division III state championship crown.

The Rebels will host St. Thomas Aquinas Friday night in a regional round playoff matchup, and Riverside coach Bill Stubbs doesn’t pretend his team has forgotten the events of a year ago.

“No doubt about it, it’s a game our players are going to be excited about,” Stubbs said. “At the same time, we always stress it’s not about our opponent as much as it’s about who we are.

“But it isn’t like basketball or baseball where you play someone and can come right back a week or two later and play them again. We’ve had to wait for … it’ll be about 372 days of waiting to play them again. I think our guys will be eager.”

The Rebels haven’t lost since that first round matchup last season, reeling off 11 straight victories.

Riverside (11-0) matched up with STA (10-1) in a preseason scrimmage and dominated the action, outscoring the Falcons 10 touchdowns to one.

If anything, that performance has made Stubbs a bit cautious: last season, Riverside handily won the preseason scrimmage between the teams as well, but the Falcons proved to be a different, better team in the postseason.

“That’s the big thing, seeing how much better St. Thomas is now from the first time we played them in the scrimmage,” Stubbs said. “We had our way in that scrimmage. We’re an improved team, but they are as well. We need to play good football, and I think we’re up to that task.”

St. Thomas Aquinas lost its opener this season 44-26 to Loranger, but has since ripped off 10 consecutive victories, including a 32-7 bi-district round victory over Hannan to advance to the second round.

When STA head coach John White piloted the Falcons to that win over Riverside last season, it came as something of a homecoming for him: White, the brother of former Riverside and current East St. John head baseball coach Matt White, is a former Riverside assistant coach. He is in his ninth season as Falcons coach.

White commands a very physical, run-first offense based around a Wing-T attack. Falcons quarterback Cameron Dantzler finished the regular season with 1,461 rushing yards and scored 19 times. STA hasn’t scored less than 26 points in any contest this season, and has topped the 32-point mark in nine straight games.

“(Dantzler) is very good,” Stubbs said. “He runs their offense extremely well. He’s a threat. Whoever has the ball on a given play … they’ve got enough to give you pause.

“They run the football well. They try to get out on the perimeter through that Wing-T. (Dantzler) makes good choices on the run-pass option. He makes it all go.”

Running back James Cox was key in STA’s victory over RA last season, and he returns this year.

He rushed for 128 yards and two touchdowns in that game.

“He hammered us hard last season,” Stubbs said. “He’s a big boy. We’ve got to slow him down.”

Defensively, tackle Collin Lee has been a monster this season for the Falcons. He finished the regular season with 149 tackles while sacking opposing quarterbacks 15 times, something the Rebel offensive line and freshman quarterback Jordan Loving must account for.

Turnovers will be a focus. Riverside turned it over three times in the second half of last season’s loss to STA, including a strip and fumble return by Dantzler  he returned for a 90-yard touchdown and the eventual game-winning points.

Stubbs said “no matter how old you get in this game, you’re always continuing to learn.” If the Rebels are to be a champion, they’ll show how much they’ve learned in a year’s time.

“We’re a year older and more mature, and we know what’s at stake,” Stubbs said. “If we want to get to that big semifinal, to that championship game, we have to go through a good St. Thomas Aquinas team.”