BIDWELL, Ohio — In more ways than one on Friday night, the River Valley Raiders reversed course.
Against underdog Alexander, the host Raiders relied — early and often — on a physicality and running attack that has been missing most of this football season.
The change in pace, along with an overall solid defensive effort, spearheaded the Raiders to a 27-15 Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division victory on Homecoming at River Valley High School.
The Raiders, in desperately needing a win and snapping a three-game losing streak in the process, reverted to a smash-mouth first-half style that produced 156 rushing yards and two lengthy yet successful scoring drives.
In the second half, the usual pass-happy Raiders got back to that bread and butter, as quarterback Patrick Brown recorded a pair of touchdown passes — for a 27-6 advantage at the 4:37 mark of the third quarter.
The Spartans did make things maybe more interesting than what they should have been in the fourth, scoring nine points just two minutes apart for a 27-15 deficit with just 9:47 remaining.
But the Raider defense didn’t allow a serious Spartan comeback bid, forcing two turnovers on downs after drives of eight and six plays.
Actually, aside from the Spartans’ two touchdown runs that went for 41 and 52 yards almost a quarter apart, River Valley stymied Alexander to only one play of 15 yards or more.
“We had a couple busts and a couple technique issues that kept us on the field a little longer, but our defense played pretty well,” said RVHS coach Jerrod Sparling. “They played aggressive and downhill and that was the gameplan today.”
With the victory, the Raiders raised their record to 3-4 — and won for the first time in four tries this season in TVC Ohio play.
Alexander, conversely, fell to 1-6 — and remained winless in the division at 0-4.
The Silver and Black had lost its last four league contests dating back to last year, and four of its last five tilts this year.
Sparling spoke of the confidence factor Friday night’s triumph provided.
“You win a football game for a reason. It’s because you did the right things and you did your jobs and you finished business,” he said. “I think for the first time all year we came out the way we wanted to come out. Going down and scoring on that first drive was big for our confidence. The one thing that has been missing for us most of the year is a consistent running game. So being able to establish that, and really keeping cracking at it, opened some things up in the pass game later on.”
The game’s opening drive was an impressive march by the Raiders, which went for 91 yards in 13 plays and almost four minutes — and mixed the running of Brown and tailback Cole Young with the exception of two pass plays.
The drive nearly stalled at the Alexander 25-yard line on 4th-down-and-4, but the Spartans were whistled for a pass interference penalty to keep the possession alive.
Three plays later, Colton Gilmore got the carry, as he reached the end zone from four yards out the eight-minute mark.
Gilmore then kicked his first of three successful extra-point kicks, making it 7-0.
For the first half, Young racked up 77 yards on 17 carries and Brown boasted 67 yards on eight attempts — part of 23 totes and 92 yards for Young, while Brown delivered 13 rushes and 96 yards.
The Raiders rushed for 211 yards on 43 carries, as Brown only attempted four passes in the entire first half.
However, he didn’t need to throw, as River Valley — after three Alexander punts along with a Raider punt and turnover on downs — crafted another scoring drive to make it 14-0 with 57 seconds remaining before halftime.
With Young carrying six times and Brown once, Layne Fitch — on an end around to the right — finished off the eight-play, 69-yard, two-minute and 52-second series with an 11-yard TD run.
In the third quarter, the Raider air raid began, as Brown needed only four plays and a minute and 43 seconds to answer Alexander’s first touchdown — a 41-yard dart by Bradley McCollister just a minute and 51 seconds into the period.
Brown hooked up with Jarret McCarley for 34 yards on a deep down-the-middle route, making it 20-6 at the 8:20 mark.
After another Alexander punt, Brown found Fitch deep downfield as a Spartan defender fell down in coverage, and Fitch sprinted to the end zone for a 68-yard strike at the 4:37 point.
Gilmore made his third PAT kick, giving River Valley its largest lead at 27-6.
Brown completed 6-of-11 passes for 127 yards — with Fitch making three receptions for 74 yards and McCarley catching two for 44.
The Raiders held a 19-13 advantage in first downs, and outgained Alexander by a count of 338-202.
“We connected on the perimeter and our offensive line and quarterback and receivers did a nice job,” said Sparling. “That’s a total offensive effort when you can run the football to set up the pass and connect on your opportunities. If we’re not able to run the ball the way we did earlier, I don’t think those shots happen. We forced their hand to get out of some structure and once they did, we adjusted and threw the football well.”
Still, the Spartans stayed close, and after Gilmore missed a 26-yard field goal with a minute left in the third, Alexander struck for its final nine points in a matter of two minutes and two seconds.
With only 11 seconds elapsed in the fourth quarter, Conner Kimbrough bolted 52 yards for a score — as Marcus Spaulding’s extra point made it 27-13.
Then, as River Valley attempted a punt in the shadow of its own goalpost, the Raiders botched the snap — and Gilmore ultimately was penalized for intentional grounding in the end zone.
As a result of the safety with 9:47 remaining, the Spartans got the ball back trailing by just two touchdowns — but an eight-play, four-minute and 10-second drive netted only eight yards.
The Raiders then went three-and-out, but Alexander’s final drive — featuring two completions and three straight incompletions — ended when quarterback Kaleb Easley was sacked at his own 31.
Kimbrough rushed for 86 yards on 11 carries for the Spartans, as McCollister added 76 yards on 14 tries.
The Raiders return to TVC Ohio action next Friday night — when they venture to Vinton County.
“Anytime you get a ‘W’ and some momentum because you did some nice things, you hope that carries over into the next week,” said Sparling. “We’re a young football team and success can be a trap, so we have to be on the guys to handle this maturely.”
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106