By Jeffery Armstrong
Riverdale Raiders head football coach Nick Davis wasn't shy about the significance of making the playoffs this season after suffering through a 2-8 season at Columbia last year.
"It definitely beats sitting and watching everybody else play," he said, laughing.
Riverdale (6-4) is making its fourth straight trip to the Class AAAAA state playoffs and this year has to be the most interesting journey. First-year coach Davis implemented a new offensive system for the Raiders, while trying to figure out his new players and their tendencies.
Riverdale started out slow, limping to a 1-2 record before winning five straight games to peak at 6-2. Five of those six wins were Region 2-AAAAA wins to put Riverdale in first place and clinch a playoff berth.
The Raiders then lost a heartbreaker to Douglass for the region crown and were shutout by Stephenson in the final game of the year, losing out on the No. 2 seed and hosting a playoff game. Riverdale is the No. 3 seed and will travel to Fayetteville to play the No. 2 seed Starr's Mill Panthers (9-1) out of Region 4-AAAAA.
"We're excited about being in the playoffs again. We didn't finish up the way we wanted to, but we have a chance to start over now," Davis said. "The Douglass game took a lot out of us emotionally, especially with a touchdown being called back. But we're glad about the opportunity to keep on playing."
Davis said he has his work cut out for him, describing Starr's Mill as the best team Riverdale has faced all year. He may be right. The Panthers, state-ranked all season, can throw four quality running backs at teams and two of them, Kyle McCreary and Antonio Scott, are very dangerous. In a Sept. 17 game at Union Grove, the senior McCreary rushed for 176 yards and Scott, a junior, rushed for 126.
And if teams only key on the running backs, Panthers quarterback Robbie Davis can beat them with the play-action passing game.
"It will be a tough game, for sure. We just have to remain disciplined and the guys have to do their assignments," Davis said. "We have to gang tackle on defense and on offense, we have to execute plays and not commit turnovers."
Riverdale players echoed their head coach's sentiment.
"Everybody has to do their job against Starr's Mill," said junior middle linebacker Justin Cobb. "Despite losing our last two games, we are pretty confident. We'll be better against Starr's Mill."
Junior running back Kelvin Colbert also knows what has to be done against the Panthers.
"We have to play assignment football Friday n everyone has to play their positions," Colbert said. "We're in a pretty good mood as a team and we should do well in the playoffs."
Davis is glad his players know what they need to do, he just hopes they can execute the plan Friday.
"If they can only transfer what I've told them to the field, then we'll be fine," he said.