BIDWELL, Ohio — On a scorcher of an opener, new River Valley starting quarterback Patrick Brown had the hot hand.
That’s because Brown, engineering the Raiders’ up-tempo fast-paced offense as the graduated Dayton Hardway’s replacement, threw for a hefty 303 yards and four touchdowns in River Valley’s 51-27 rout of the visiting Eastern Eagles on Friday night at a steambathed River Valley High School.
The contest marked the 2016 football season opener for both teams, as the Raiders registered their third consecutive lid-lifting victory over the Eagles.
In fact, Eastern remains winless in season openers since 2004.
Last season, River Valley blanked Eastern 57-0 in Meigs County — and appeared, early on, on its way to doing that once again.
The Raiders raced out to a 27-0 lead with eight minutes and 15 seconds left in the second quarter, and opened up a 37-6 advantage at the 3:46 mark before halftime.
Finally, with 7:25 remaining in the third quarter, Chris Parsons’ six-yard touchdown run made it 51-13 — as a pair of Jett Facemyer touchdown passes in the final 15:49 made the score much more respectable for Eastern.
The Raiders needed only a minute and 47 seconds into the third period to enforce the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s running-clock rule, when Jacob Campbell picked off Facemyer on the third play of the half — and returned the interception 55 yards for a touchdown.
But Brown’s four first-half touchdown tosses, and 278 yards through the air in the opening 24 minutes, allowed the Raiders to set the tone.
River Valley, after graduating 15 seniors from last season’s first-ever state playoff squad, is reloading under sixth-year head coach Jerrod Sparling.
Sparling said that although there is plenty of work yet to be done, it was a fast start — especially offensively — for his Raiders.
“For the most part, we’re a veteran football team, and I was really on these guys in practice this week to start fast tonight,” said Sparling. “It was a point of emphasis. Tonight was the fastest I think we have ever played on offense, and that’s a good thing. I’m really proud of the kids and their effort, but we have a long way to go before we are finished product. However, I think our guys handled our business pretty well. I thought playmakers made big plays and our quarterback played very, very well. He had a really good start taking over.”
Exactly what did Brown do for the Raiders?
They scored 37 first-half points, totaled all (377) but 34 yards and nine of their 46 plays from scrimmage in the first two quarters, and rushed for 65 yards on 20 carries.
Brown completed his opening 10 pass attempts, finishing the first half 12-of-17 with 278 yards.
“That’s not a bad start taking over,” said Sparling of his junior signal-caller, with a smile.
His only attempt in the second half was River Valley’s first play — a 25-yard completion to Layne Fitch to set up Parsons’ touchdown run at the 7:25 mark.
The Raiders wasted little time taking it right to the Eagles’ defense, receiving the opening kickoff and marching nine plays and 54 yards.
Brown completed three passes of six yards or more on the drive to Tre Craycraft, as Jacob Campbell carried five times — — including a walk-in three-yard touchdown run only two minutes and 48 seconds in.
Campbell finished with a team-high 40 yards on 11 carries.
After Eastern opened by driving 32 yards and nine plays prior to punting, Brown connected with Craycraft again — only two plays later at the 4:44 mark.
Craycraft crossed over the middle and made an in-stride reception, stiff-armed an Eastern defender, then outmaneuvered Eagle defenders along the sideline in dashing to the end zone.
The pitch-and-catch went for 60 yards, as Devin McDonald made the first of his five extra-point kicks — in addition to his 24-yard field goal that put the Raiders up 37-6.
“We came in and got shell-shocked,” said Eastern coach Pat Newland. “We were back on our heels and not playing football. We didn’t quit, but they (Raiders) continued to make plays because they are a good team. But when they make a big play, we can’t be like ‘oh my gosh we have to watch out for this and that.’ We have to read our keys and play fast right with them. We played real slow at first. We were playing open zones and not finding the receivers in those zones. We had a couple of blown coverages like we were lost in no man’s land.”
Craycraft caught eight passes for 175 yards, as Jacob Dovenbarger made two receptions for 66 yards — both touchdowns.
Sparling spoke highly of his wide receivers’ play.
“Our wideouts made plays. I can’t think of a wideout that didn’t make a play at one point in time tonight,” he said. “When you have that and you have momentum, that’s good.”
The other wideout which was involved was Jarrett McCarley, who capped the Raiders’ next scoring drive with a minute-and-a-half left in the opening period.
After Eastern endured a three-and-out possession, River Valley drove 58 yards in five plays — capped by Brown completing a deep pass to McCarley towards the corner of the end zone.
McCarley made the reception just inside the 5-yard-line, turned his shoulders to the outside once contacted, and stretched towards the goal-line for the 22-yard score.
McDonald made the extra point for the 20-0 lead, as the Eagles then ran five plays before punting once again.
The Raiders’ two second-stanza scores were a pair of touchdown completions from Brown to a downfield Dovenbarger — with the second coming off a flea-flicker from 48 yards away.
McDonald made both extra points, extending the River Valley cushion to 37-6 with six minutes remaining in the half.
Both teams finished with 18 first downs, although Eastern was forced to throw once trailing by 31 points.
The Eagles only rushed for 104 yards on 23 attempts, but Facemyer threw for 254 yards — and a pair of touchdowns in the final 15:49.
He completed 19-of-29, and rushed for two second-quarter TDs, making it 27-6 and 37-13.
Facemyer also rushed for game-highs in carries (13) and yards (63), but his final pass of the first half and his opening attempt of the second sealed the deal.
On the first half’s final play, Dustin Barber picked off Facemyer in the end zone, before Campbell came up with the pick-six to enforce the running clock.
Jeremiah Martindale made seven receptions for 102 yards, while Blaise Facemeyer caught eight aerials for 61.
“We are proud of our kids for not quitting after getting down early like that,” said Newland.
Blaise Facemyer caught a 12-yarder and Martindale a nine-yarder for Eastern’s second-half scores.
“Give credit to Eastern. They fought back in a couple of circumstances and had a bounce go one way or the other and they are back in the game. Their kids played hard,” said Sparling. “But we were able to do some things up front and be aggressive there and on the perimeter defensively. When you are playing bump-and run or man coverage, sometimes they (opponent) are going to win. We made a couple of mistakes here and there and we weren’t crisp all the time, but overall I thought we still had a good effort on that side of the football.”
As for Eastern’s defense, Newland admits it needs work, as the Eagles host Miller on Friday night (Sept. 2) for their home and Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division openers.
“We have to be able to switch up and know exactly what the coverages are every time we line up and play aggressively,” he said. “We can’t play passive or indecisive.”
Playing aggressive, and fast, is what propelled the Raiders to another season-opening triumph.
River Valley visits arch-rival Gallia Academy on Saturday night (Sept. 3) for its next game — the second annual Ohio Valley Bank Community Bowl.
“We have a lot of older players on this team that are hungry to make their own mark on this program and carve their own legacy,” said Sparling. “I’m excited about this group and this coaching staff, and tonight was a good start for what we want to ultimately accomplish.”
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106