GREENVILLE – The Riverheads Gladiators dominated play in the second half to pull away from Washington & Lee for a 49-15 victory in the season opener Friday night.
“It was a typical first game,” said Riverheads High Head Coach Robert Casto. “I thought the kids stayed the course and played consistent football. We gave up that score right before the half, but the guys responded and played well in the second half.
“W&L has a good football team,” added Casto. “They’ve got athletes and they’ve got some good football players. They don’t see our style of play very often and when that’s the case that makes our offense even more effective.”
The Gladiators scored on their first possession with a seven-play, 70-yard drive aided by two penalties against W&L. Braeson Fulton capped the drive with a 3-yard run and Peyton Skillman added the first of seven straight extra points for a 7-0 Riverheads lead.
The Eagles drove the ball deep into Riverheads territory midway through the opening quarter, but the Red Pride defense stopped the Eagles on a fourth-and-4 play to take over on downs at the Riverheads’ 17.
Riverheads then chewed up the yardage, driving 83 yards in 11 plays to pad the lead. Zach Smiley gained 62 yards on five carries and Fulton found the end zone again, this time on a 7-yard run to make it 14-0.
The Gladiators’ defense forced a punt on the next series with the offense taking over on the Riverheads 30.
Once again, it was ground and pound with Smiley scoring on a 3-yard run to cap a 10-play drive.
The Eagles picked up some momentum with a score late in the half. W&L fumbled the ball at the goal line, but Shane McNeill pounced on the loose pigskin in the end zone to put the visitors on the board, cutting the Riverheads lead to 21-7 at the half.
The Eagles took the second half kickoff, but the Riverheads defense regained the momentum, forcing a turnover at the Eagles’ 19. Smiley scored on the next play, making the score 28-7 and the rest of the half belonged to the Gladiators.
After bottling the Eagles up deep in their end, Riverheads took advantage of a short punt to score again. Taking over at the W&L 28, Riverheads needed just four plays to score. Fulton scored his third TD of the night on a 5-yard run, making the score 35-7.
The Riverheads special teams got in on the action on the next series as a blocked punt put Riverheads in business at the W&L 20. Smiley scored on a 1-yard plunge to push the margin to 42-7.
The Gladiators added their final score on a 94-yard drive after the defense stopped the Eagles on downs at the Riverheads 6. Cole Burton had the big play with a 59-yard jaunt to the Eagles 4. Aiden Miller scored on the next play to make it 49-7.
As usual the Gladiators utilized a stable of running backs working behind solid line play to dominate the game. Riverheads did not attempt a pass.
Casto was also pleased with his team’s play on defense.
“That offense they run is tough to defend. You have to account for a lot of different things. We’re playing a lot of new guys on that side of the football. Overall, I thought the defense played pretty well.”
W&L 0 7 0 8 — 15
Riverheads 7 14 21 7 — 49
R – Fulton 3 run (Skillman kick)
R – Fulton 7 run (Skillman kick)
R – Smiley 3 run (Skillman kick)
W&L – McNeill, fumble recovery in end zone (Santiago kick)
R – Smiley 19 run (Skillman kick)
R – Fulton 5 run (Skillman kick)
R – Smiley 1 run (Skillman kick)
R- Miller 4 run (Skillman kick)
W&L – Tolson 1 run (Thompson run)