River Bluff rolls into region play after dramatic comeback win over Dorman

Posted 9/23/23

It was the last non-region game of the season and a loss would send the Gators into the most impressive stretch of the season on a sour note. But instead of panicking and folding to the pressure, the Gators clawed their way back and escaped with a thrilling 29-28 win.

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River Bluff rolls into region play after dramatic comeback win over Dorman


Things looked bleak for the River Bluff Gators early in the fourth quarter when Parker Murray’s screen pass was picked off and taken to the end zone by Dorman’s Kentavion Anderson. The score gave Dorman a 28-16 lead with 10:46 remaining. 

It was the last non-region game of the season and a loss would send the Gators into the most impressive stretch of the season on a sour note. But instead of panicking and folding to the pressure, the Gators clawed their way back and escaped with a thrilling 29-28 win.

“We had a lot of missed opportunities and we shot ourselves in the foot, I can’t say how many times, but our kids had grit and kept fighting,” River Bluff head coach Blair Hardin said after the game. “Our defense in the second half was tremendous and I couldn’t be any prouder of our defense. We found a way to punch it in the end zone in the second half. Just really proud of our guys.”

The Gators mounted a mini comeback of sorts earlier in the game. After scoring a touchdown on the opening drive to take a 7-0 lead, Dorman scored 21 unanswered points and led by two touchdowns going into the final minute of the first.

The Gators were able to get in field goal range and capitalized with a field goal from Tripp Bryant to cut the lead to 21-10 at halftime.

The Gators cut it to 21-16 in the third quarter after Toriaun Leaphart’s touchdown run in the third quarter. The defense held firm and forced Dorman to punt again and going into the fourth quarter, the Gators had the ball on their own 11 with a chance to take the lead. 

However, the Murray interception posed what might have been the worst case scenario. A comeback attempt with a big setback and now, instead of having the ball with a chance to take the lead, the Gators would need to pick up two scoring possessions on the Cavaliers. However, the Gators still felt they could get back in the game if they could just clean things up on their end and avoid the procedural penalties as well as the unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.

“So we had some stupid penalties early on, like that block in the back down there, but we just had to tighten up and keep the talking on our side to a minimum and show them by playing, not talking,” River Bluff offensive lineman Pac Pitts said. “We got with our offensive line coach and did what we’re supposed to and we picked up yard after yard and it ended up coming back to give us the win.”

It did all start with Pitts and the rest of the Gator offensive line. The unit helped create great running lanes for running backs like Leaphart (70 yards), Trace Nettles (69 yards) and Hayden Myers (77 yards). 

When the Gators got the ball back after the pick-six, the offensive line and the rushing game helped create a methodical 14-play, 70-yard drive that resulted in Murray bouncing back from his mistake and redeeming himself with a clutch eight-yard touchdown pass to Brock Godfrey on fourth and goal to make it a one score game.

Trailing 28-23, the River Bluff defense came up with another huge stop and afforded the River Bluff offense to attempt one more drive to take the lead. This one was more successful than the initial attempt earlier in the quarter. 

Aided by a Dorman face mask penalty on third and 16, the Gators were faced with a third and one to extend the drive with 3:30 remaining. The offensive line got just enough push and Leaphart fought for that pivotal yard to keep the Gators’ hopes of winning alive.

“We work in the weight room all the time and that’s what it is,” Pitts said when discussing the offensive line’s success on third and short scenarios. “It’s how hard we work against our defensive line in practice. There’s no off days for us so it’s just coming out here another day for another yard.”

The Gators made it into the red zone with the perfect opportunity to take over the game when Murray found Lathan Smalls down the seam for a 33-yard gain down to the Dorman four with 2:59 remaining. 

With only 1:55 left, the comeback was complete when Myers punched it in from two yards out to give the Gators a 29-28 lead, their first advantage since the game’s opening drive. 

Dorman got a first down on the next drive but wouldn’t get much more. A big penalty on third and six backed them up to face a third and 11. An incomplete pass forced the Cavaliers into a pivotal fourth and 11 with 44 seconds left. 

On that play, Gators defensive end Alonzo Singleton came up with a clutch sack to end the game and crush Dorman’s hopes of concocting a comeback of their own.

“We just had a three man rush and they had max protection but ‘Zo is an animal. He’s relentless,” Hardin said. “It couldn’t happen to a better kid.”

The win holds no region significance on paper, but it means everything when discussing the positive momentum it brings to the locker room and for the theme’s confidence.

“It was like a playoff atmosphere. We knew it was going to be, they brought a great crowd but we hoped that we could compete well because every game will be like that,” Hardin added.

According to Pitts, the dramatic, knockdown, dragout game will greatly prepare them for the challenge ahead of starting region play in a region that is filled with talent from top to bottom.

“I think it’s better than a blowout win for us,” Pitts said. “I think that win, where we had to claw our way back, really put things into perspective that we’re going to have to fight every single drive, every single play in order to beat these teams we got.”

“I think it just builds momentum for us,” tight end Stephen Collier, who scored the opening touchdown of the game, said. 

Collier also said the team’s current winning streak was a result of a wakeup call the team had after their blowout loss to Irmo earlier in the season and that the team has responded perfectly to that kind of adversity.

“I think it was good for us, I think we needed a little bit of a reality check,” Collier said. “But it also had us realize that we’re not that good, we’re not gonna blow every team out and that we got to keep working and coming in every day to get better.”

And after that loss, the Gators have won three straight and now stand at 5-1 on the season with three straight wins and an endless supply of positive momentum going into their most crucial stretch of the season: region play.

Scores from around Lexington County

Weddington (NC) 17 Dutch Fork 14

Irmo 54 Airport 0

White Knoll 42 Lancaster 8

Chapin 22, AC Flora 7

Brookland-Cayce 28 Hampton County 14

Gilbert 49 Saluda 27

Midland Valley 77 Swansea 0

Chester 38 Batesburg-Leesville 18

Ninety Six 40 Pelion 7

River Bluff football, Dorman Football, Blair Hardin, Parker Murray, Toriaun Leaphart, Trace Nettles, Hayden Myers, Pac Pitts, Stephen Collier, Lathan Smalls, Brock Godfrey, Alonzo Singleton, Kentavion Anderson


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