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Staunton River had nothing to play for when it squared off against William Byrd last Friday evening.
The thing is, nobody on the Golden Eagle team seemed to share that opinion.
River had no possible chance for a playoff berth and no shot at a Blue Ridge title. The team limped in under the onus of a four-game losing streak, with its last win coming in September. The siren calls of basketball courts and wrestling mats beckoned the Eagles.
In spite of all those distractions, Staunton River put forward an effort unlike any seen at the Eagles' Nest in some time. As a result, the Rivermen marched off their home turf with a 19-14 win over the Terriers.
This game was won with heart, pure and simple.
"That was the most enjoyable game I've been involved with since I've been here," said River Head Coach Chuck Poston. "Sometimes pride is enough (to get you the win)."
Indeed, pride carried this bunch of Eagles. That and crisp execution and ball control on offense, as well as stinginess and gang tackling on defense.
Things looked dire when the one-two punch of Simeon Horstmann and Darryl Preston went to work late in the first quarter.
Horstmann rumbled 12 yards out of the wildcat, setting up Preston's 45-yard jaunt off right tackle for paydirt.
River responded with a 12-play drive executed by quarterback Deshawn Martin. The drive was halted by the Terrier defense, but not before kicker Adam Daponte split the uprights, closing the margin to 7-3.
River's next possession was high on brevity: just two plays, both of them carries by Chris Tyree.
On the second of those, the senior punched through the left side of the line, broke three sets of arm tackles, regained his footing after nearly being tripped and turned on the jets for a 75-yard touchdown.
"Our line did well," said Tyree. "There were holes. All I did was keep my feet moving."
River added to its 10-7 lead when it took possession with less than two minutes to play.
Running its Bandit offense to perfection, Martin led his crew on a march of 70 yards from his own 20 yard line. That set up Daponte's second field goal, giving River a 13-7 edge at the break.
Good fortune had intervened on the part of the Eagles. "We had worked that exact scenario in practice on Thursday," said Poston. "Dadgum, it happened on Friday."
That lead was extended on River's first possession of the second half. On third-and-five from his own 38, Martin faded back to pass. Finding no good options, he cut left, crossing the line of scrimmage. He then cruised back to his right, bee-lining toward the right end zone pylon, outrunning the entire Byrd defense and giving his team a 19-7 edge.
The Terriers pawed their way back into contention with a bizarre-o play. On third-and-11, from their own 11, quarterback Hunter Shepherd tossed a seemingly harmless pass into the flat. It was caught by Shaffer Kelly, who was nailed by River's Paul Williams.
Kelly, however, rolled over Williams and landed on his feet. With many of the Rivermen thinking the play was dead, Kelly astutely raced the 89 yards into the end zone to cut the score to 19-14.
With a full quarter to go, it appeared Byrd might pull this one out of the fire.
Well, the Staunton River defense put an end to that kind of thinking. True, Byrd drove from its own 32 to the Eagle 26. But River's Williams, Frederick Cortland and Sam Goode came up with huge stops to thwart that drive.
River then worked about five minutes off the clock with a nifty drive that included a pair of fourth down conversions.
One came when Martin snuck in for the needed half-foot. The other came when Williams, out of the wildcat, fought with everything he's got, breaking free of Horstmann, for a two-yard pickup.
"That was a bit of redemption," said Williams. "Simeon Horstmann, who is a tremendous football player, had me wrapped up. I just knew I had to get that first down."
Finally, Brandon Weeks deflected Byrd's last-gasp pass attempt to seal the victory on a fourth and nine, with a minute remaining.
-The win improved River to 3-7 (1-3 Blue Ridge) while dropping Byrd to 4-5 (2-2).
-A victory would have locked Byrd into the playoffs. Now the Terriers must defeat Rockbridge County to do that. Or lose and hope for help.
-This was the third-straight time River has beaten its Rte. 24 rival. It is believed to be the first time that has ever happened. "They're my favorite rival," noted Tyree of the Terriers. "If I had to pick one team to beat, it would be them."
-Top defenders seemed to be Williams and Malik Claytor. The two outside linebackers kept the Byrd running game confined to inside charges. Claytor and Austen Kearns also made huge tackles on special teams.
-For the first time in recent memory, the Eagles were back to full strength. The addition of Weeks was an obvious plus. Having Tyree and Martin back at full speed certainly paid dividends.
-Daponte's field goals would have easily been good from 15 yards further back.