Second to none: Riverdale rallies for comeback win

FAYETTEVILLE – The streak is over.

The Riverdale Raiders overcame two lost fumbles, the loss of their starting quarterback and some controversial calls to beat the Starr's Mill Panthers 28-17 Friday night in both teams' Region 4-AAAAA opener.

The Raiders (4-0, 1-0) beat the Panthers (1-3, 0-1)for the first time since 1998, having lost the last four meetings between the two teams. Players jumped for joy, hugged each other and hugged coaches after such a hard-fought road victory.

"We did it. That's about all I can say," said Raiders head coach Rodney Hackney. "I love these guys – there's no superstars on this team but they find a way to win. To beat Starr's Mill at their place is a testament of how hard these guys want to win."

Raiders backup quarterback Tim Johnson and senior defensive back Jerome Touchstone came up with big plays in the game. Johnson, a sophomore, threw a second-half touchdown pass and Touchstone made big second-half runs, including a 50-yard TD run, and he made great defensive plays to ensure the victory.

"Those two guys were the heroes. Last week, it was Kelvin Colbert and Doug Jennings," said Hackney. "Each week somebody seems to step up."

Starr's Mill played a mistake-filled game, fumbling the ball five times and throwing two interceptions. The Panthers' first fumble, eight seconds into the contest, led to Riverdale's first touchdown. Starr's Mill fullback Kyle McCreary took the opening kickoff, ran five yards and fumbled the ball. Riverdale's Marcus Johnson scooped the ball and ran 20 yards for the score. The PAT gave the Raiders a 7-0 lead before fans had a chance to find their seats.

Starr's Mill battled back, using a no-huddle offense and their famed Wing-T offense to keep the Raiders on their heels. After a Riverdale fumble, Panthers quarterback Robbie Williams engineered a four-play drive that ended with him tossing a 36-yard TD pass to receiver Ryan Barr with 5:34 left in the first quarter. The PAT tied the game at seven.

Starr's Mill kicker Russell Warren, who was kicking balls into the end zone, booted a 24-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead, but Riverdale came back on a 9-yard TD run by Colbert for a 14-10 Riverdale lead. Panthers running back Dante Allen scored minutes later on a 64-yard TD run to make the score 17-14 with a few minutes left before halftime.

The half ended with injuries. Allen twisted his ankle and Raiders starting quarterback Rashad Nettles suffered a big hit which not only dazed him but injured his hamstring. Neither player returned.

Allen's injury was a devastating blow for the Panthers. He rushed for 76 yards before his injury and the Panthers couldn't do anything with the ball in the second half. Riverdale outgained Starr's Mill 198 to 126 in the second half.

Johnson, who threw for 150 yards in Riverdale's junior varsity win, was calm under center, tossing a 22-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter to Kevin McCullough for a 21-17 lead. He said he wasn't nervous replacing the senior Nettles.

"I believed in my coaches and the offensive line," said Johnson. "I knew the line had my back and I had faith in my backs to get the job done."

Touchstone had a 92-yard TD run called back early in the fourth because of a late clipping call, but he was undaunted. Two possessions later, he iced the game with his 50-yard TD run to make it 28-17.

"We refuse to lose – we wanted this game too bad to lose it," said Touchstone. "We believed in each other and the pressure was on me to step up. I didn't want to lose to Starr's Mill as a senior."