By Brian Howard
The senior class for the Riverdale High School football team accomplished a few goals this season.
The Raiders advanced to the Class AAAAA state players. They had a winning record and beat rival North Clayton and defeated a team that constantly gives them fits - Lovejoy, a 37-34 victory at Twelve Oaks Stadium.
But one of their goals they fell short of reaching - a Region 2-AAAAA title.
The senior class can erase that goal and start a new one Friday at Valdosta - aka, Winnersville USA. Kickoff for the opening round game is 8 p.m. at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.
Riverdale (8-2), No. 3 seed from Region 2-AAAAA, is making its fourth trip in five years to Valdosta (6-4), No. 2 seed from Region 1-AAAAA. The Raiders' seniors remember that trip as sophomores, a 63-0 rout.
“Our senior leadership has been good all season,” Davis said. “The seniors remember being shutout against Valdosta as sophomores. I'll be very, very surprised if we don't go down there and play our game.”
In 2001, Riverdale lost to Valdosta, 17-6 and finished the season with a 9-3 record. In 2002, the Raiders lost by just a touchdown, 7-0, and ended with a 6-4 mark. But it was the 2003 game what the current seniors remember, a 63-0 loss, finishing the season at 6-5. The two teams didn't meet last season.
Valdosta offered Riverdale the choice of playing Friday night or Saturday night, thinking the Raiders would like an extra day to prepare and to travel down from Atlanta, but Riverdale opted for Friday.
The Raiders started the season with seven straight wins before stumbling to a 1-2 mark to end the season.
“If you look at the two losses we had this season,” Davis said, “We made our own mistakes. Against Tri-Cities, we had seven turnovers and lost five. Against Stephenson, one turnover went for seven points and we had a personnel problem, where we had 10 men on the field and that gave Stephenson the other score.
“We can't give good teams points from our mistakes. If we don't turn the ball, then we would have been region champs.”
Despite the two losses, the Raiders have gained lots of confidence throughout the season, especially with wins in the first five games to rivals North Clayton and Lovejoy.
“I think those two games boosted out confidence,” Davis said. “After the Lovejoy game, we played well and things were going in the right direction. Then we reached the open week and lost our focus. If we could have played every week, then we could have won them all.”
Valdosta enters the game after a 24-14 win over Colquitt County last Friday.
Valdosta coach Rick Darlington went back into the shotgun offense, which is what the Wildcats had been using most of the season. Valdosta had used the wing-T the previous week.
The change to the old system worked, as the Wildcat offense was able to put 17 more points on the board than it had the previous week in a 10-7 loss to Coffee.
Perhaps one of the biggest elements of the Valdosta offense will be watching from the sideline.
The Wildcats lost tight end Brandon Wrice with a broken wrist. He injured the wrist on a catch in the second quarter of last Friday's win. Wrice caught eight passes for 183 yards and a pair of scores this season.
The winner of Friday's game will meet either Newnan or Camden County in the second round.