Rebels return favor to St. Thomas Aquinas

Published 4:44 am Saturday, November 22, 2014


RESERVE — St. Thomas Aquinas threatened to do it again.

This time, Riverside was ready.

Riverside shook off an early deficit and slow offensive start to defeat the visiting Falcons in a Division III quarterfinal matchup, 34-6, earning a measure of payback for the upset loss it absorbed at the hands of STA a season ago.

“We came with a chip on our shoulder,” said Riverside’s Blake Doming, whose early second-half interception thwarted what was a potential game-tying drive.  “They upset us last year. It shouldn’t have happened. We came with the mindset that it absolutely wasn’t happening again.”

The Rebels are now headed to the Class 2A state semifinals. Next week, RA will travel to Calvary Baptist, the second seed in Division III.

Riverside coach Bill Stubbs has been stressing the need for a championship-level defense since his tenure at Riverside began in 2012. He appears to have one now, and the Rebels needed it against an old nemesis.

“You’ve got to be playing great defense at this point in the season,” Stubbs said. “That’s a hallmark right now of winning championships, and it always has been. We started off slow offensively, and they were giving us some things where we had little problems with adjustments. When it came down to it, we did some things that gave us an opportunity of running the football, and I think we did a good job of that.”

Brandon Sanders totaled 136 yards and two touchdowns on 13 offensive touches to lead Riverside (12-0).

Riverside forced 54 turnovers this season prior to Friday’s action, and bumped that count up to 60: RA won the turnover battle 6-0, as Blake Doming, Kendall Martin, Evan Veron and JuJuan Bell each intercepted passes while Thaddeus Andry and Brandon Ralser each recovered fumbles.

“Takeaways are a big part of what we do here,” Doming said. “We aren’t just looking to stop you, we’re out to take it from you. It turned the game for us.”

Brad Lewis’ 23-yard run on St. Thomas Aquinas’ second play from scrimmage made it a 6-0 STA lead just 26 seconds into play.

Riverside tied things up late in the first quarter on Jordan Loving’s 20-yard pass to Brandon Sanders. Tyler Gauthier had a rare miss, though, on an extra point and the score remained knotted up.

The Rebels did take the advantage into halftime, though. Loving found McGee for a 13-yard touchdown reception to make it 13-6 after Gauthier’s extra point was true.

Late in the third quarter, Gauthier made up for his early miss and then some: he got loose for a 41-yard touchdown reception from Loving with 1:08 left to play in the third quarter, making it 20-6.

St. Thomas Aquinas (10-2) couldn’t get on track against the Riverside defense. While Lewis finished with 86 yards on the ground, STA star quarterback Cameron Dantzler was held in check all night.

Sanders landed the knockout punch with 4:52 left in the game, ripping off a 50-yard scoring run. Brandon Hymel added the exclamation point on Riverside’s next possession, scoring on a 4-yard run to round out the 34-6 final.

Loving finished the night with 10 completions on 20 attempts for 110 yards and three touchdowns. Gauthier led the Rebels in receiving with four catches for 56 yards.

STA held the RA receiving trio of McGee, Von Julien and Darrion Cook to just four receptions and 31 yards, by far the lowest output the trio has had in a game.

But it didn’t stop Riverside from rolling into the state semifinals — and conquering its 2013 demons.

“We showed we could handle adversity tonight,” Loving said. “Our senior leaders really stepped up tonight.