STOVALL: Riverdale-Griffin will be fight to the finish

Gabriel Stovall

Gabriel Stovall

It’s Clayton County’s turn once again to take another crack at Griffin.

The Bears — once seemingly unbeatable to Southern Crescent teams — will be licking its Stockbridge inflicted wounds as they head to Jonesboro Friday to face a 4-1 Riverdale squad.

Yes, Stockbridge. The same Stockbridge who got blanked 23-0 to third-ranked M.L. King. The same Stockbridge that has been stifling teams defensively all season while being slightly underwhelming on offense so far.

The same Stockbridge that I felt probably had a lesser chance of beating Griffin than Dutchtown or Jonesboro or a pre-Dutchtown Riverdale.

Opps. I guess that’s why they play the games on the field and not in the newspapers.

Both Dutchtown and Jonesboro lost decent leads in the second half en route to their Griffin defeats. Stockbridge was lifted to its 17-14 victory on the leg of Andrus Guillen and his 27-yard field goal as time expired. And the game wasn’t even that close.

Some people are calling it Henry County’s biggest football victory ever — and rightly so.

But what would a Riverdale win Friday mean for Clayton County?

While Henry’s northern neighbors have faired better against Griffin, they have not dominated.

Clayton County schools are 27-158 all-time against Griffin.

The last time Griffin lost to a school from Clayton County was when Mount Zion won 30-16 in 2008. But you’d have to go back to Forest Park’s Hines Ward era, circa 1995 to find the last time Griffin lost back to back games against any combination of Southern Crescent schools.

This year, the Bears are 2-1 against the Southern Crescent. Riverdale hopes they are poised to make it 2-2. And they stand a good chance.

I wouldn’t have said that two weeks ago after watching Dutchtown run roughshod over the Raiders in a 38-0 rout. But something Riverdale coach Olten Downs said when I talked to him after that game made me begin to change my thoughts.

“I’ve always believed that your team learns more from its losses than its wins,” he said.

And he’s right. Reason why I know is because that principle doesn’t just apply to football and sports. That’s life.

And most coaches — and players old enough to know better — will tell you that sports is one of the greatest classrooms for life lessons anyone can find.

You don’t know the true character of a person until they’ve been tested. You don’t know how you’ll respond in adversity until you’ve been given some adversity to respond to.

Or in the words of that illustrious philosopher and former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson: “Everybody has a game plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Dutchtown punched Riverdale in the mouth 38 times two weeks ago. And how did Downs’ crew respond?

How about a 52-36 scoring explosion in its win against Eagle’s Landing last week — 10 more points than the Raiders scored in its first two and a half games combined.

Perhaps the lack of a letdown after losing its first Associated Press top 10 ranking in seven years shows that Riverdale is ready for the next step. Perhaps the Dutchtown loss expedited the growing curve for the Raiders.

“The Dutchtown game was preparation for this moment,” Downs said after a Tuesday afternoon practice. “It has been a while since Riverdale has been in that type of position and fighting for something.”

Sounds like the Raiders are ready to make a little history of their own.

It wouldn’t be Clayton County’s biggest win. And it might not even be the school’s biggest win. Riverdale’s last win against Griffin — a 6-3 victory that carried them to a region title in 1988 — had more at stake.

But it would certainly be the biggest win to date in Downs’ promising, young coaching career. And it would be the biggest win for this Riverdale senior class — a group that has rarely come close to winning consistently on this level.

And with a home crowd behind it and Region 4B-AAAA pole positioning at stake, the Raiders are poised to make Friday a night to remember.

Perhaps Griffin is reeling — on the ropes from last week’s loss and a descent from second to tenth in the latest Associated Press poll.

Perhaps it will be the Bears that will come out punching hard as it gets off the mat from last week’s TKO.

Either way, I imagine they’ll need all four quarters to decide it. Expect this one to go the distance.

Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at gstovall@news-daily.com. On Twitter? Follow him @gabrielstovall1