y Brian Paglia
Hakeem Smith was a freshman bystander when Riverdale football coach Nick Davis coached the Raiders to an 8-3 season and playoff appearance in 2005. Davis left the next year to coach at Shiloh, where he coached for two years. Smith and Riverdale went through two coaches while Davis was gone, Kevin Jones and Jamie Reed, neither of which could replicate the success Davis had.
Now, Smith is a senior star and Davis is his coach again, and the Raiders (4-3, 4-2 in Region 4-AAAAA) are back in the playoff hunt. But a playoff appearance is far from a guarantee for Riverdale. After the Raiders play Mundy's Mill on Friday at Twelve Oaks Stadium, they face East Coweta (5-2, 5-1) and Creekside (4-3, 3-3), two teams very alive in the playoff picture.
Westlake (4-3, 3-3) trails the Raiders by a game along with Creekside, but Riverdale would hold the tiebreaker with Westlake should the teams be tied at the end of the season thanks to its 33-30 win over Westlake on Sept. 13.
Smith envisioned this scenario when he heard Davis was returning to Riverdale in the spring. The senior knows these three games are paramount for his chances to experience a playoff game.
"These are the last three games of our senior year," Smith said. "They're big. And we're just trying to get to the playoffs. We need to. We haven't been in four years. So, we control our own destiny."
"We can't worry about where the other teams are going," Davis said. "We just worry about ourselves."
What worries Davis most are the incessant turnovers that have plagued the Raiders recently. Davis' triple-option offense puts a premium on ball-control, a product of consistent execution.
"This is an offense where you have to take the proper steps," Davis said, "and everything that you do you have to do the exact same way every time.
"It's not like running the Pro-I and tossing it up to a good running back and let him make moves. It's sort of a complicated offense, but it looks very simple. It's hard to defend when it's run correctly. That's the hardest part, is getting teenage kids to do the same thing every single time."
The Raiders have shown flashes of explosiveness this season. They've scored more than 30 points three times, something Riverdale didn't do during Davis' absence. But the Raiders haven't won consecutive games since beating Lovejoy and Westlake in early September.
"Offensively, we're capable of putting up big points," Davis said. "It's just a matter of being consistent."
Turnovers have prevented the Raiders from developing that consistency and put the defense into precarious situations. During Riverdale's 25-21 win over Pebblebrook last Friday, the Raiders' defense stopped Pebblebrook from taking advantage of good field position off of turnovers on little rest.
But Davis hopes those mistakes don't continue in a time of the season when every play's importance is magnified.
"This time of year," Davis said, "those mistakes, they're going to come back to bite you. People are going to take advantage of them, because they're a better football team."