Game of inches doesn’t diminish season of success

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, December 9, 2015

RESERVE — It took Riverside Academy 15 years to get back to the Louisiana High School Athletic Association finals. It took Riverside coach Bill Stubbs four years to take them there. Not much went as expected after that.

The team that had been so proficient at running the football couldn’t. The team with a bench full of quarterbacks had to use them all, even the one who hadn’t thrown a pass all season. All three failed to throw a touchdown. And the team that went to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome riding an 11-game win streak and fully expecting to win its first LHSAA state championship trophy left instead with its fourth silver runner-up award.

Riverside lost the LHSAA Division III select state title to Notre Dame of Crowley, 13-3. It was the Rebels’ lowest point total since 2013, when they suffered a 12-6 loss to South Plaquemines.

And while many tears were shed by the players mourning what might have been, Rebels head coach Bill Stubbs was staid in his admiration for his team.

“I’m not disappointed at all,” Stubbs said. “This was a great group of young men. Everything we asked of them … they have done. They bought into what we had to sell. These players have a bond. We just did not execute like we have in the past. We just couldn’t get into sync.”

A lot of that had to do with Notre Dame, which went into the game boasting one of the best defenses around. The Pioneers allowed only 52 points all season, shutting out eight opponents.

But for Tyler Gauthier’s 41-yard field goal in the first quarter of Friday’s game, it would have had another. The Pios held Riverside’s much-vaunted offense, which averaged more than 254 yards per game, to a total of 135 — with minus-26 yards rushing. Jordan Loving, the quarterback who missed all 13 previous games with a back injury, went 13 of 26 for 161 yards and was named Riverside’s Outstanding Player of the Game.

“You hope to make a team one-dimensional, which I thought we did,” said Notre Dame Coach Lewis Cook.

In turn, Riverside’s defense played about as exceptionally as it could, with linebackers Evan Veron, Cardez Joseph and Jared Hymel making stop after stop to hold Notre Dame to 212 yards. Veron led the game with eight tackles and three assists.  Joseph had seven and Hymel had six.

But there was that span of 18 seconds in the final minute of the first half that the Rebels wish they could have back.

With less than a minute to play Riverside had Notre Dame stopped at its own 35 yard line. On fourth-and-1, the Pioneers lined up and Riverside jumped offside. On the next play, the Pios completed a 55-yard flea flicker to the Rebels’ 3. On the next play they scored, but missed the PAT, leaving Notre Dame with a 6-3 lead with 18 seconds remaining. Riverside then fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Notre Dame recovered at the Riverside 28 with 12 seconds remaining. On the next play, the Pios scored on a pass that every Riverside fan in attendance will swear was out of bounds. The referees said he got at least a toe in. The kick was good as time expired and Notre Dame had a 13-3 lead that would hold through the second half.

The Rebels will lose a slew of talented players from this memorable squad, including punter/kicker/wide receiver Gauthier, wide receiver Herb McGee, running back Brandon Sanders and Veron on defense. But the cupboard isn’t completely bare. Jared Butler, who led the offense for the second half of the season, is a sophomore, as are Loving and wide receiver Jalen Banks, who also returned from an injury this season.

There’s no way to predict how long it will take Riverside to return to the Superdome for another chance. It could be 15 years. Or it could be 15 games. Either way, Rebels fans have to wait.