You couldn’t blame Steve Schultz for feeling a tad nostalgic.
No River Ridge High School football team had ever accomplished what this one has this season.
“This is special,” Schultz said. “We’ve never had a home playoff game. We’ve never had a league championship.”
Check both of those off now, coach. The Hawks held off Steilacoom, 37-27, at Blair Taylor Athletic Fields to claim a share of the 2A South Puget Sound League title with Franklin Pierce.
River Ridge is the league’s No. 2 seed, and will host North Mason on Friday in a state play-in game at South Sound Stadium in Lacey.
As usual, the Key brothers were right in the middle of the action Friday night.
Quarterback Kobe Key completed 11 of 18 passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns. Tailback Michael Key rushed for 124 yards on 28 carries, and scored three times – twice on short runs.
“This is a very special win,” Michael Key said. “Everyone says that River Ridge was an underdog. We know what we have inside of us.”
Whatever it is, it was put to the test in the fourth quarter.
Up 30-13 with 11 minutes to go, Steilacoom scored twice in a three-minute span – the last coming on Brian Thomas’ 64-yard scamper along the right sideline. Throw in Anthony Leiato’s two-point conversion run, and the River Ridge lead was trimmed to 30-27.
But the Hawks’ defense held the rest of the way. On Steilacoom’s next drive, the Sentinels went three and out.
After River Ridge failed on a fourth-and-7 pass with 2 minutes, 41 seconds remaining, Hawks defensive lineman Isaiah Bird recovered Leiato’s fumble on the first ensuing Steilacoom play at the Sentinels’ 15.
“You can’t put the ball on the ground and expect to win ballgames,” Steilacoom coach Brian Koch said. “River Ridge played a great game.”
Three Steilacoom turnovers were killers but what doomed the Sentinels was their third-down defense. River Ridge converted six out of 14 third downs. Two of them came on long scoring passes – the last on Kobe Key’s 23-yard touchdown strike to Chris Leiba in the left corner of the end zone to push the lead to 37-27 with 2:04 remaining.
Thomas finished with 182 yards on 21 carries in his final regular-season game – and on a night Steilacoom retired former quarterback Greg Herd’s jersey. Herd has been in a few NFL camps in the past two seasons after starring at Eastern Washington University.