Defending Division III champion Riverside overcomes slow start to eliminate Northlake Christian, 42-21

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Riverside Academy gave Northlake Christian a bit of a head start in Friday night’s Division III first round playoff game, but soon the Rebels zoomed right past the Wolverines and into the quarterfinals.

After spotting Northlake Christian a 7-0 lead, the defending Division III state champion Rebels scored two touchdowns in the final 2:13 of the first half.

After falling behind 14-13 in the third quarter, the Rebels came up with big plays to regain the lead. Then they scored 15 points in the span of 58 seconds in the fourth quarter to seal a 42-21 win over the No. 12 seed Wolverines in Reserve.

The No. 5 Rebels (4-4) will travel to No. 4 Dunham for next week’s quarterfinal round. Northlake Christian finished the season 3-8.

Rebels running back Louis Cheneau rushed for 142 yards and one touchdown. Quarterback Jordan Loving passed for 114 yards and three touchdowns, connecting with Jalen Banks for a 13-yard score, Jeremiah Bigham for a 19-yard score and Kash Foley for an 11-yard score. Loving also ran for a 4-yard touchdown and threw a 2-point conversion.

The big plays came from Garland Robertson, who scored on an 80-yard kickoff return and set up another Rebels score with a 63-yard punt return.

It all added up to a big win for the Rebels, who were idle last week for the third time this season.

Riverside coach Chris Lachney insisted that last week’s open date had no effect on his team. Rather, it was all Northlake Christian’s doing.

“They’re a good football team,” Lachney said. “We tried to tell everybody, our players that. Once you get into the playoffs you’re playing good teams. They’re a real physical football team and they gave us all we wanted at first.”

Using their multi-player wildcat offense, the Wolverines rushed for 297 yards. Nick Morman led the rush with 190 yards on 23 carries and scored one touchdown. Wesley Brown rushed for 111 yards and scored two touchdowns.

Coach Anthony Agresta flat out said his team outplayed the Rebels.

“Other than the special teams, I thought we won the football game,” he said. “I thought we outplayed them from down to down, from series to series. Anybody can look at that film, they can see Northlake can play with anybody and I’m proud of my kids. I think we were the better football team tonight.”

The Wolverines hurt themselves with a fumble that led to one Rebels touchdown and a bad snap on a punt, which led to another.

But they started the game with a 74-yard, 7 -play drive capped by a 1-yard touchdown run for Brown. The Wolverines led 7-0 just 2:56 into the game.

Riverside did not score until the 2:13 mark of the first half, and needed a big play to get it. Robertson set up the score with a 63-yard punt return to the Wolverines 13-yard line. Two plays later, Loving connected with Banks for the first Riverside touchdown of the night.

“The offense was struggling, the defense was struggling and we needed a spark,” Robertson said. “This whole year our special teams has been a weapon.”

Just two minutes later, the Rebels recovered a bad punt snap at the Northlake Christian 4 and, on third down, Loving scored on a keeper. He was hurt on the play, however, and was on the sideline for the missed PAT kick, leaving the Rebels with a 13-7 halftime team.

Northlake Christian started the third quarter strong, too, and took a 14-13 lead on a 42-yard run by Brown with 8:57 remaining in the quarter.

The Wolverines’ lead would not last long, though, as the Rebels scored 68 yards on three plays – most of it on a 59-yard run by Cheneau that put Riverside ahead 20-14.

Loving would put the Rebels ahead 27-14 with a 19-yard pass to Jeremiah Bigham with 3:29 remaining in the third.

After Northlake Christian scored its third and final touchdown on a 1-yard run by Brown, Robertson showed his speed again with an 80-yard kickoff return to put the Rebels ahead 35-21 with 9:56 remaining in the game.

The Rebels’ final touchdown came after Wilson Battley recovered a Northlake Christian fumble at the Wolverines’ 27-yard line. Three plays later, Loving threw to Foley for the final touchdown of the night.

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