BIDWELL, Ohio — None of the players were even born the last time it happened, so you can call this a win for the ages.
River Valley picked up its first gridiron victory over Gallia Academy since 1996 and also claimed the first Ohio Valley Bank Community Bowl trophy in the process Saturday night with a 27-13 victory during a Week 2 battle of Gallia County programs at Raider Field.
In the 11th overall meeting and first game between these rivals since 2001, the host Raiders (2-0) wasted little time in erasing a five-game losing skid to the Blue Devils (0-2). RVHS scored in each of the first two quarters for a 14-0 halftime advantage, then converted both of Gallia Academy’s second half turnovers into points while maintaining a wire-to-wire cushion.
The Silver and Black outgained GAHS in total offense by a mere 269-177 overall margin, but a majority of that edge came during a first half that saw the Raiders dominate with a sizable 194-51 advantage.
The Blue and White, however, put together second half scoring drives that resulted in touchdowns over a two-minute span in the fourth, making it a one possession (20-13) dog fight with 9:17 left in regulation.
The Blue Devils forced a three-and-out and retained possession at their own nine with 5:48 remaining, but Kirk Morrow came down with a tipped pass that resulted in an interception two minutes later.
River Valley responded with a six-play, 24-yard drive that ended with a Sam Payne three-yard scoring run with 53 seconds left — giving the hosts their final margin of victory.
Following his most important win as head coach, and arguably the biggest win in RVHS history, fifth-year RVHS frontman Jerrod Sparling was tremendously thrilled for his troops — each and every single one of them.
“Tonight was a total team victory. Our playmakers made plays, our guys up front did their jobs and our role players performed well,” Sparling said. “The game got a little more interesting there at the end then we would have liked, but we stepped up and found a way to finish it. I’m really proud of our kids for making this happen.”
On the flip side, second-year GAHS coach Josh Riffe was disappointed with the end result — but also noted that there were some positive things to build on moving forward.
“Unfortunately, we started a little too slow again. That is something that we definitely need to improve on,” Riffe said. “I am proud that we never quit and we gave ourselves a chance to win that game late, which is something that all coaches want. We just had too many mistakes and they eventually caught up with us.”
The Raiders took the opening kickoff and marched down the field to the GAHS eight, but a 25-yard field goal attempt by Mark Wray bounced forward off the upright — keeping the game scoreless three minutes in.
Both teams exchanged punts on their ensuing possessions, but Jacob Dovenbarger recovered a Blue Devil fumble at the six — setting a first and goal at the six with 5:34 left.
Dayton Hardway executed a successful quarterback keeper on the next play, allowing the hosts to secure a permanent lead of 7-0 with 5:29 remaining in the opening stanza.
GAHS — which never came closer to midfield than its own 43 in the first half — came away with its first first down of the game with under five minutes left in the second quarter. That drive ultimately started at the GAHS two and ended in a punt that gave the hosts possession at their 46 with 2:11 left.
Three plays and 54 yards later, the Raiders owned a 14-0 advantage after a third-and-six pass from Hardway to Morrow resulted in a 50-yard TD with 1:22 left in the half.
The Raiders owned a 128-36 advantage through the air and had another 66-15 lead in rushing yards before the break. RVHS also claimed an 8-3 edge in first downs and both teams forced a turnover in the opening 24 minutes of play.
River Valley’s Mike Williams recovered a fumble on the opening possession of the second half, then the hosts went 32 yards in three plays to secure a three-possession advantage. Mark Wray rumbled 27 yards to paydirt with 8:53 remaining for a 20-0 cushion — the largest lead of the night.
The guests, however, responded with an incredible 18-play, 73-yard drive that saw Kole Carter find Brett Hively on a nine-yard scoring pass on fourth-and-goal. Hively’s snag between Raider defenders made it a 20-7 contest with 11:17 left in regulation.
The Blue Devil defense forced a three-and-out on the next possession, then Carter found Hively on another passing strike to close to within a possession at 20-13. Hively’s second TD haul covered 19 yards and came with 9:17 showing on the fourth quarter clock.
RVHS was forced to punt on its next possession, which gave Gallia Academy the ball at its own nine with 5:48 left. The Blue Devils gained a first down, but a Ty Smittle sack and the Morrow interception followed — giving the hosts posession with 3:48 remaining.
The Raiders came up with a crucial fourth-and-one conversion at their own five, then Payne capped the final scoring drive with a three-yard plunge — giving the Silver and Black a 27-13 lead with under a minute remaining.
The Blue Devils staged one last drive, but never came closer than the RVHS 34-yard line before ultimately running out of time.
Of the three high schools located in Gallia County, only River Valley has failed to ever make the playoffs. GAHS has a county-best 10 appearances, while the Rebels of South Gallia have three postseason appearances to their name.
To make matters worse, the Raiders have only one winning season and 34 total victories since last facing Gallia Academy back in Week 7 of 2001.
Needless to say, this was a statement victory for the Raiders and for Sparling — who is now 12-30 overall during his tenure as RVHS coach.
It’s been a long journey from where he started with the Silver and Black, and he did enjoy seeing this final outcome. He’s also more focused on seeing if his troops can post the first winning season for the program since 2003.
“Any time you can beat that team in town, it’s a special moment. I’m glad that these kids are able to have this special moment,” Sparling said. “Now, as sweet as this moment is for the program, we are happier to be 2-0 and playing good football for the most part. We have to continue to work hard, get better and be more consistent if we want to keep having these types of results.”
The Raiders rushed 35 times for 141 yards and also had 128 passing yards to go along with 13 first downs. Gallia Academy finished the evening with 78 rushing yards on 41 tries, as well as 99 passing yards and 14 first downs.
River Valley finished the night plus-2 in turnover differential and was penalized three time for 35 yards. GAHS was flagged five times for 32 yards and did not score on its lone takeaway.
Wray led the hosts with 93 rushing yards on 12 carries, while Hardway added 25 yards on 10 attempts. Hardway was also 7-of-16 passing for 128 yards, while Morrow led the victors with five catches for 84 yards.
Carter led the guests with 42 rushing yards on 27 carries, which included 13 attempts during the first GAHS scoring drive. Carter was also 9-of-13 passing for 99 yards, while Matt Bailey hauled in a team-high four passes for 43 yards.
Gallia Academy senior Devin Henry also intercepted a Hardway pass on the opening play of the second quarter.
Both Gallia County programs will be on the road next Friday as RVHS travels to Eastern and the Blue Devils head to Washington Court House for a pair of non-conference Week 3 contests at 7:30 p.m.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.