BIDWELL, Ohio — Some things are worth the wait.
It took 24 years after opening its doors due to consolidation, but the River Valley football team finally had its moment under the Friday night lights this past fall after earning the program’s first-ever playoff appearance in 2015.
The Raiders (7-4) had never won more than six games in any season since opening its doors in the fall of 1992, nor had it posted a winning record on the gridiron since the 2003 campaign.
A lot, however, has changed for the Silver and Black during the 2015 season, and most of it can be attributed to a long-term plan coming to fruition.
When Jerrod Sparling — who played football at Ohio University under current Bobcats coach Frank Solich — accepted the RVHS job in 2011, he inherited a program that had only 10 wins in its previous seven campaigns.
And during those seven prior seasons, the Raiders surrendered at least 300 points in six of them — as well as allowing at least 30 points defensively in 48 of those 70 contests.
Sparling’s first three years didn’t fare much better as RVHS mustered just five wins and gave up 30-or-more points in 21 of those 30 contests. The first big breakthrough, however, came last fall when the Raiders went 5-5 while surrendering only 276 points on the season — their lowest total in a decade.
This year’s historical breakthrough can easily be attributed to a defense that has surrendered only 12 points per game and includes zero nights of allowing 30 points. In fact, no opponent has managed more than 26 points (Meigs) in any one game against the Silver and Black this fall.
The Raiders had three shutouts this season, which includes a 26-0 win over fellow playoff qualifier Rock Hill in Week 1. You’d have to go back to the 2002 finale to find River Valley’s previous three shutouts before the 2015 season.
Thirty members of the 41-man preseason roster were on the team in 2014, and there were also 15 seniors with multiple seasons of playing experience leading the way. There was also the familiarity in playing in the same system, under the same coaches, during the last five seasons.
The Raiders are averaging 25.3 points per game and posted a season-high 57 points in a Week 3 shutout at Eastern. RVHS is plus-1 in turnover differential, has 100 more total yards of offense (2,631-2,531) than its opponents, and also has a slim 144-139 advantage in first downs this fall.
River Valley is averaging 122 yards on the ground per game while putting up close to 142 yards through the air offensively. Conversely, the RVHS defense is surrendering 158 yards per game on the ground and 95 yards in the air.
The Silver and Black faced three playoff qualifiers during the regular season, going 1-2 in those contests after losses to Alexander (22-12) and Shadyside (14-7). The Raiders are also 4-1 in regular season road games this past season.
Then came the moment of truth, a Week 11 playoff contest on November 6, 2015, at Zane Trace High School against the unbeaten Pioneers in Division V. Zane Trace — a two-seed — ultimately forced three first half turnovers en route to a 34-0 victory, the first in that program’s six postseason appearances.
The Raiders were one of three teams from the Ohio Valley Publishing area to qualify for the 2015 playoffs in football, joining both Point Pleasant and fellow Gallia County program South Gallia in advancing to the postseason.
PPHS went on to the state semifinals in Class AAA in West Virginia, while the Rebels — who were making their fourth playoff appearance — were also shut out in their Division VII opening round contest at Danville (63-0).
By qualifying, River Valley became the last of six Ohio-based programs in the OVP area to secure a playoff game — joining both Meigs (2008) and Southern (2013) with one appearance apiece. Eastern has appeared twice in both 2000 and 2001, while Gallia Academy leads all Ohio-based teams in the OVP area with 10 appearances — the last of which came in 2012.
The Raiders tied with Meigs and Athens for second place in the TVC Ohio Division, their highest finish in league during their two years in the Tri-Valley Conference. RVHS also had four players earn All-Ohio honors and had six players sign with college football programs, both of which were also program bests.
The crowning jewel of River Valley’s historic 2015 campaign, however, came in Week 2 during a 27-13 victory over visiting Gallia Academy. RVHS is now 2-10 all-time against the Blue Devils, with the other victory coming in 1996.
Over the last two full seasons of football, no team in Gallia County has better overall record than the Raiders at 12-9. SGHS is 11-10 since the 2014 campaign, while GAHS is 5-15 during that span.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.