Kelle Sanders simply did what he does — rush the quarterback.
The River Ridge High School senior, who recorded 11 sacks last season, came off an edge, hurried Capital quarterback Grant Erickson, wrapped him up and brought him to the ground.
What happened next drastically shifted the momentum on Friday night at South Sound Stadium, where River Ridge knocked off Capital, 35-22, in a nonleague season opener.
“I kept going too far out, so I readjusted my angle and ran directly toward him,” said Sanders, a Washington State University commit at defensive end.
“He still slipped out, so as he was running, I grabbled his legs, drove him down, and then the ball came out.”
That’s where the conflict came into play. Mark Valerio toppled on Erickson, along with Sanders, and the ball squirted out. Whether or not Erickson was down when the ball came out was questioned by Capital’s sideline.
“When Kelle initially hit him, he switched hands, and the ball just fell,” said Padric Green, who scooped up the ball and carried it 10 yards into the end zone.
Green’s touchdown evened the score at 15-15 with seven minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Capital coach John Johnson was ejected for disputing the call.
“We kind of lost our energy, I would say, and it just went downhill from there,” Capital wide receiver Carson Bertelli said.
The Hawks pulled away following three more touchdowns. Josh Braverman hauled in two long passes from Sanders (35 yards and 37 yards), and Trey Dorfner added another 37-yard run to give River Ridge an advantage it didn’t lose.
Braverman (five receptions for 92 yards) and Dorfner (23 carries for 124 yards) had two touchdowns apiece. Sanders finished 11 of 21 passing for 124 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
“We’re just getting reps,” Dorfner said. “Eventually we found out what was happening (with) them blitzing every play.”
Green said the fumble recovery and subsequent touchdown rejuvenated River Ridge’s sideline after trailing at the half.
“It helped us settle down,” Green said, “knowing that we can come back and we can beat them and we can play with them, even though theyre (Class) 3A.”
“It gave us our confidence back.”
River Ridge coach Steve Schultz, who picked up the 100th win of his career, said he expected the offense to get going after halftime adjustments. This is the third time during the past two seasons the Hawks (1-0) have trailed at halftime, and the first time they’ve won in that situation.
“We went in there and we talked about the mistakes,” Schultz said. “We were missing some gaps, we werent playing through the whistle, we weren’t playing hard to our responsibilities.”
Capital (0-1) paced the game early, leading by eight at the half.
“We came out and played a good first half,” Bertelli said. “We controlled the ball, we played good defense.”
Capital capitalized when Bertelli picked off a deflection deep in River Ridge territory late in the first quarter. Three plays into the drive, Erickson hit Chris Schnellman, who stretched over the goal line, for a 12-yard touchdown.
The Cougars— who expect to pass the ball more frequently this season — knocked again when Erickson hit Bertelli for a 67-yard pass down the right sideline. Bertelli was dragged down at the four-yard line, but Nathan Tyler punched it in on the following play to give Capital a 15-7 advantage at the half.
“We preach no deep routes, and they got behind us,” Schultz said.
Erickson, a sophomore, finished 18 of 36 passing for 227 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Tyler (14 carries for 29 yards) added another touchdown for Capital on a two-yard run with 2:55 remaining in the fourth, but it was too late.
“We went in at the half and (assistant coach Jack) Zilla was talking to us Just keep doing what you need to do, bounce outside and find the hole, well get there,” Dorfner said.
“And we came out with the win.”
C – Grant Erickson 12 pass to Chris Schnellman (Chris Penner kick)
RR – Trey Dorfner 5 run (Matthew O’Leary kick)
C – Nathan Tyler 4 run (David Ainuu 2-pt)
RR – Paddy Green 10 fumble recovery (Kelle Sanders 2-pt)
RR – Josh Braverman 35 pass from Sanders (O’Leary kick)
RR – Braverman 37 pass from Sanders (O’Leary kick)
RR – Dorfner 37 run (kick failed)
C – Tyler 2 run (Penner kick)