Two undefeated football teams met last week in a battle for Columbia County supremacy.
It wasn't a big-time Friday night football showdown. It was a Tuesday night football clash between Lakeside Middle and Riverside Middle schools.
The Eagles of Riverside Middle have long been the dominant football team in the county. They entered the final game of the season Tuesday night with a 23-game winning streak on the line dating to 2003.
Lakeside Middle didn't own a multiseason winning streak, but still sported an undefeated record this year because of a defense that hadn't allowed a touchdown all season long.
That streak came to an end quickly in a 14-8 Riverside Middle victory.
"Things didn't go exactly as we planned, but we made the plays when it was absolutely necessary to make the plays," Riverside Middle football coach Casey Heckathorn said.
The Eagles took control of the game early when they turned their first possession of the game into a nine-play, 58-yard scoring drive. Fullback Tony Perella covered the final 14 yards of the drive, including a 1-yard touchdown run for an early 7-0 Riverside Middle lead.
"That first one was huge," Heckathorn said. "We deferred the coin toss, and our first-team defense did a great job giving us the football. They haven't been scored on all year, either."
The score remained at 7-0 until the fourth quarter, when the Eagles padded their lead. Eighth-grader Andrew Paul capped off a 72-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run for a 14-0 Riverside lead on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Paul rushed for 114 yards on 12 carries in the game. Three of those carries went for 17 yards or more.
"The three plays like that were all on his own," Heckathorn said. "He was supposed to go through a hole, but it was closed up every time, so he found a way. They weren't designed runs like that."
Lakeside Middle responded immediately with a scoring drive of its own on the next possession. The drive almost stalled when Lakeside faced fourth-and-5 on the Riverside 48-yard line with 6:10 left in the game, but Jerrick Gibson found Zach Hornsby for a 48-yard scoring strike for Lakeside Middle's only touchdown of the game.
Quarterback Daniel Henry threw a 3-yard pass to Yeon Hill for a successful two-point conversion try to make the score 14-8.
Lakeside's defense held later in the fourth quarter, and the visiting Panthers took over on downs with 2:14 left in the game on their own 10-yard line.
That's when eighth-grader Jacob Lane saved the win for Riverside with a game-clinching interception on the Lakeside Middle 24-yard line.
"That play was probably the game-breaker right there," Paul said. "It was an amazing catch."
Eagles quarterback Mark Weidenaar took a knee to run the clock out and complete Riverside's fourth consecutive undefeated season.
Even with the streak intact, Heckathorn, in his first year as Riverside Middle's head football coach, was quick to point out that winning isn't everything at the middle school level.
"I've told the kids from the start that the goal was not to go undefeated," he said. "It was to prepare them to become good high school football players."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.