The final game, a loss to Benedictine in the Class AAAA quarterfinals, won’t be the lasting memory of the 2020 Riverdale football team.

This year’s players and coaches will be remembered for lifting the program back to a level it hasn’t seen in decades.

Prior to 2020, the Raiders’ last playoff victory was 2001. Their last region championship and last state quarterfinal appearance was 1998. They snapped all those streaks of futility this season.

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They also won the Region 5-AAAA championship in dominant fashion with a perfect record by outscoring North Clayton, Fayette County, Hampton, McDonough and Luella a combined 190-0.

“It was definitely a highlight season we probably didn’t see coming, that’s how it comes sometimes,” Riverdale head coach Rodney Hackney said. “It was big for our seniors to do something that hasn’t been done in 22 years. It means a lot to our community to win a region championship and make a decent run in the state playoffs. It’s definitely something to build on for our future. Some of our kids want more, and that’s a good thing.”

Hackney admitted the 48-13 quarterfinal loss to talented Benedictine wasn’t his team’s best showing, though their were some bright spots. The defense hung tough despite being put in tough situations by offensive mistakes. Malik Harris rushed for 80 yards and a touchdown, and quarterback Avaun Rucker threw for 181 yards and rushed for 94.

Riverdale trailed only 20-0 at halftime after giving up a punt return TD. It also surrendered a pick-six.

“It was a little disappointing,” Hackney said. “I thought we’d play better in our quarterfinal game. … We just didn’t show up. It happens sometimes. You hope it doesn’t happen in the playoffs. It happens sometimes. You’re dealing with 15-, 16-year-old kids. Sometimes it happens on the professional level. You just don’t play well.”

While the Raiders will continue to enjoy such a milestone season, they also can look ahead to a bright future. Duplicating this year’s success, particularly with the graduation of 14 starters (seven each on offense and defense), won’t be easy in 2021.

But the excitement and energy within the program, the high school and the community is promising.

“We’ve got some guys coming back, but quarterback is huge trying to replace Rucker, he’s a four-year starter,” Hackney said. “Derwin Burgess, you can’t really replace a Derwin Burgess. But we’ve got kids we think can step up from the JV program. It will be interesting. It will be fun. The kids see big shoes to fill, and they will come in with a chip on their shoulder. Just the overall excitement is great. … Most of our JV kids stayed and practiced (with the varsity after the JV season), played scout team, so them getting that experience of making it to the quarterfinals was big.”

The 2020 season also had its challenges in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was memorable for both the older and younger Riverdale players.

“We’re happy about what we achieved, but we’re not satisfied,” Hackney said. “It was a good run for our guys and good experience for guys that haven’t been that far. I haven’t been that far myself in 12 years, so you can’t take those seasons for granted.”

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