High School Sports

Party like it’s 1998: River Ridge ends frustration against North Thurston, beats Rams

Chris Leiba reversed direction, found some daylight and turned on the jets, returning the second-half kickoff 78 yards for a touchdown.

As the River Ridge senior accelerated, a decade and a half’s worth of frustration for the program began to wash away with every step.

Since 1999, the Hawks cross-town rivalry with North Thurston has been one-sided to say the least. But Leiba's big return on Friday combined with Kobe Key's accurate passing helped River Ridge snap its 12-game losing streak to the Rams.

Key ran for a score and threw for another and River Ridge defeated North Thurston, 28-16, at South Sound Stadium. It was the Hawks’ first win over the Rams since 1998.

"All I saw was the end zone," said Leiba about his kickoff return. "That's all I saw. That seemed to pick everyone up for the rest of the game. It feels good. Been a while (since we defeated North Thurston)."

Key passed for just 127 yards, completing 12 of 14 passes. He did not miss on his final 10 attempts to keep second-half drives alive for the Hawks (2-0) by converting third downs.

North Thurston rushed for 217 yards on 40 attempts but could never get its passing game going. Quarterback Jake Harn completed 3 of 12 passes for 51 yard with an interception.

"I thought we played better this week. The score doesn't show it, but we played better," said North Thurston coach Rocky Patchin, who opens a season 0-2 for just the second time in his 23-year tenure with the Rams.

"We will continue to work, continue to improve and get ready for league play."

Dante Thomas rushed for 109 yards on 11 carries with 102 yards coming in the second half for North Thurston. Thomas cut the Rams deficit to 21-16 with an 11-yard TD run midway through the third quarter, but the Hawks answered with a long drive, capped by a 4-yard Michael Key touchdown to produce the game's final score.

Thayer Murphy sealed the game with an interception with three minutes remaining in the game. The Hawks were able to run out to clock.

The Lacey rivalry actually got off to a very competitive start as River Ridge, which opened its doors in 1993, split the first six meetings against North Thurston.

From 1999 to 2011, North Thurston dominated the Hawks, going a perfect 12-0 in a series that did not include a matchup in 2009 as well as the previous two seasons.

The victory over the Rams could be a good early omen for the Hawks. The last time River Ridge defeated North Thurston also occurred during the same season the Hawks last made the state tournament.

The Rams, which lost its opener, 34-21, to Timberline, have now lost to both Lacey schools in the same season for the first time in school history and are off to their first 0-2 start since 2001.

River Ridge managed just 70 total offensive yards in the first half, but 55 of that came on its last drive, which Key capped by tossing a 6-yard touchdown pass to Padric Green with 9 seconds remaining to give the Hawks a 14-10 lead at the intermission.

Trailing 10-7, River Ridge fell on a North Thurston fumble at midfield with under 2 minutes left in the half and quickly went to work through the air.

Key was perfect during executing the two-minute drive, going a perfect 5 for 5 for 53 yards.

North Thurston grabbed a 10-7 lead on Matt Longnecker's 31-yard field goal with 3:46 left in the first half.

Zach Sibley tied the game at 7 early in the second, scoring on a 4-yard run after the Rams recovered a muffed River Ridge punt return.

For the second consecutive week, North Thurston's special teams cost the Rams dearly as Longnecker's first punt ricocheted off one of his own lineman before being recovered by River Ridge at the North Thurston 10.

Key rolled out to pass three plays later, but decided to tuck the ball and run, scoring on a 5-yard run.

Both teams begin league play next week. North Thurston kicks off its Narrows League 3A slate by hosting Wilson, while River Ridge plays it's inaugural South Puget Sound League 2A game at Franklin Pierce.

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