Rebel's rise to clinch playoff spot with win over Beavers
BY JUSTIN LADA
ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR
For a stretch South coach Matt Duffy said that his Rebels were having a hard time playing a four quarter game. They endured penalties, injuries, turnovers in the midst of playing Kenston, Mayfield and Chardon in week six, seven and eight.
In a Week 10 matchup against Riverside with a shot at a playoff spot on the line, South had to play four good quarters and then some. The Rebels (6-4, 3-4) prevailed, 27-21, over the Beavers (4-6, 3-4) in double-overtime thanks to their defense and resilience.
Jordan Smith ran in a two yard touchdown with 4:51 to play in the fourth quarter to put Riverside ahead 21-14 after South punted and felt that Riverside touched the ball and the Rebels recovered. The Beavers capitalized on the Rebels' fourth turnover of the game to pull ahead.
South handed the ball off to Ira Sampson early and often on the next drive and he punched it in from the two yard line with 3:12 to play to tie the game at 21.
On Riverside's following drive, South's Rico Small, named Homecoming King earlier in the day, picked off a pass that gave South a chance to win the game with a field goal with two seconds left on the clock. The field goal fell short and South had to earn a Week 11 spot in overtime.
Riverside managed to stop South on fourth-and-inches on its first possession and Riverside missed a potential game winning field goal on its first overtime possession.
On a potential go-ahead field goal for Riverside on its second overtime possession, the snap was fumbled, allowing South to go for the win on its next drive.
South quarterback Justin Grosel took off on a designed run and nearly got the Rebels into the end zone but was dragged out of bounds at the one yard line. On the next play he handed the ball off to Deshod Reese who sprinted into the end zone to give South a hard fought 27-21 win and a chance to play in Week 11.
"It's a dream come true. Week 11, it's amazing," Reese said following his game winning touchdown.
"It's great for our team, a hard fought win for the final time on this field," Grosel followed with. "We haven't been (to the playoffs) since 2014, I'm so proud of our group. We never gave up on each other."
Riverside held a 6-0 lead at halftime, but South felt pretty good about only being down by two field goals at the half thanks to its defense. The Beavers' Kaden Tinner picked off a pass and recovered a fumble in the first half while Luke Griffith nailed his two field goal attempts when the offense couldn't quite punch it in the end zone.
South gave the ball away three times alone in the first half on an interception, a fumble and a fumble on a kickoff. The Rebels defense led by John Susnik, William Lewis and Small held tough to give them a chance to pull off the win despite the miscues.
"It should have been a lot worse," South coach Matt Duffy said. "We played elite defense tonight all the way through. A couple big turnovers. We sacked them out of field goal range. Unbelievable job by those kids and coaches. Four is a special player and he got his. It was a great effort. I couldn't be more happy for our kid. They've worked so hard, the seniors for four years. They deserve an opportunity like they have now. Lot of credit to Dave Bors. They're always tough. His kids are always playing hard. There was a lot of emotions and the kids were able to overcome that. Holy hell, our defense. What a job by those guys. We created a lot of penalties and kind of stopping ourselves. Three turnovers in the first half. That's hard to overcome."
Small got South on the scoreboard first taking a snap at quarterback, as he did earlier in the season when Grosel missed time with an injury, and put the Rebels up 7-6 on their first drive of the second half.
When Riverside got the ball back, Lewis came in with a cornerback blitz for South, knocked the ball loose and Susnik picked it up and ran for a touchdown to put the Rebels ahead 14-6.
On South's next drive after it forced Riverside to punt, the Alex Sigh stripped the ball from a runner's hands to give the Beavers the ball back, which led to a Matt Spofford touchdown. A two point conversion from Dom Lulow to James Bruno tied things back up at 14 until Riverside took its last lead at 21-14 late in the fourth quarter.
South officially clinched a playoff spot with the win and a reason to celebrate its return to Week 11 for the first time since 2014 after a hard fought home victory, overcoming adversity all season and in Week 10.
"I'm feeling amazing," Small said, who had plenty of reason to celebrate. "I'm happy for my team, community, classmates. It's not just for us. It's for everyone in Willoughby."
It looks like South will have a date at either Massillon Washington or a re-match with Western Reserve Conference foe, Mayfield, next Friday.
"They made their minds up in the locker room last week that they weren't going to lose this game," Duffy said. "They kept their composure. If anything we just got too excited. I can't say enough about them. Every time they needed to rise, they rose."
POSTED 11/02/2019 00:50