By Craig Allen Brown
RIVERDALE, Ga. —Riverdale head coach Rodney Hackney still has vivid memories of the playoff loss he suffered at the hands of Leroy Ryals 10 years ago.
On Saturday night, Hackney again found himself squaring off against a Ryals-coached team in a playoff game. But this time, there would be no resemblance to the defeat he suffered a decade ago. Riverdale advanced to the second round of the GHSA football playoffs with a 44-7 pummeling of the Cedar Shoals Jaguars, giving Riverdale its first playoff victory since 2001, a year when Hackney had his first head coaching stop at the school.
“I’m proud of my seniors,” Hackney said after Saturday’s win. “We put Clayton County on our backs tonight. All the teams from Clayton County were knocked out last night, so we put it on us to try and win the first round. I put the pressure on my guys, and they accepted it.”
Riverdale quarterback Avaun Rucker looked sharp from the beginning of the game. On the Raiders’ second drive, his 20-yard scramble moved his team into Jaguar territory. After overthrowing a wide-open Frederick Collins, III, Rucker settled down. His next completion was to three-star wide receiver and South Carolina commit, Derwin Burgess, Jr., who had a big night for the Raiders. Two plays later, Burgess plunged into the end zone from two yards out for a 7-0 lead.
When Cedar Shoals’ next drive stalled, the Jaguars attempted a fake punt. But senior defensive lineman Pearce Brown wasn’t fooled. His tackle on the fake punt resulted in a turnover-on-downs in Jaguar territory.
After a Raiders’ field goal pushed the lead to 10-0, the Jaguars began to unravel. The Jaguars were called for back-to-back unsportsmanlike penalties on the same play, which moved the ball back to the Cedar Shoals 10-yard line and resulted in a subsequent punt.
After successfully defending the Raiders’ attempt on 3rd and 1, the Jaguars were again penalized for an unsportsmanlike penalty, their third of the quarter. Right after a 16-yard run by Autavius Ison, Rucker ran a 7-yard dive for a touchdown, giving the Raiders a 16-0 lead.
In an attempt to cut into the score before halftime, Cedar Shoals successfully moved the ball into Raider territory. But Burgess intercepted Mandrell Glenn’s pass before time expired.
After halftime, Riverdale moved the ball down the field almost effortlessly. Four of the Raiders’ first five plays went for first downs. After Burgess’ 15-yard run, Rucker completed a nine-yard touchdown pass to Collins to extend the lead.
The Jaguars managed to move the ball effectively on their next possession. After a big run by Cedar Shoals’ Caleb Allen put the Jaguars into Riverdale territory, Glenn completed a pass to running back Taiwan Green to the Raiders’ 3-yard line. When the drive stalled, the Jaguars orchestrated a fake field goal. Allen caught the ball at the 11-yard line and sprinted to the end zone, cutting into the Riverdale lead, 23-7.
Up 29-7 in the fourth quarter, Riverdale running back Malik Harris broke several tackles before finally being brought down at the Jaguar 2-yard line. Two plays later, Harris’ touchdown made it 37-7.
With only 1:27 remaining in the game, Riverdale was not done. On 3rd and 7, Rucker threw a quick out to Collins, who shook the initial defender and then sprinted 69 yards for a score. The subsequent extra point gave Riverdale a 44-7 win, and put the punctuation mark on a masterful performance that punched the Raiders’ ticket to the second round of the playoffs.
Hackney praised his seniors, specifically Rucker and Burgess, for their resiliency and their commitment to the game of football.
“Rucker is a four-year starter. He started as a 14-year-old quarterback on varsity,” Hackney said. “Derwin is a D-1 Player…him and Rucker did a great job. Hats off to those guys and the rest of the seniors. We have a long way to go, but we’re going to celebrate tonight.”
Riverdale will next face Northwest Whitfield (9-2) on December 4at Southern Crescent Stadium. NW Whitfield edged Stephenson, 28-24 in its first round game. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.