Middle TN High School Football Game of The Week: Riverdale Warriors vs Lebanon Blue Devils Recap

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Its playoff time in Tennessee! For this week’s game of the week we have a rematch of a second round matchup from last year. Lebanon sent Riverdale home early last year and was looking to do so again in 2022. This matchup featured some big-time players from Jaylen Abston and Anthony Crowell for Lebanon to Caleb Herring for Riverdale.

Riverdale went three and out to start the game and it looked like Lebanon would do the same until Quarterback Jaylen Abston picked up the first on third down with a 35-yard run. The Blue Devils fed off that momentum and immediately started looking downfield. After one failed deep shot, Lebanon was not discouraged. They went right back to the air and Abston completed a pass down to the one-yard line to Nolan Sandifur. Sean Heath then finished off the drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge. “How would Riverdale respond?” This was the question on everyone’s minds, but Lebanon didn’t give them the chance. On The Warriors’ next play Key Crowell ripped the ball out of the runner’s arms and made an escape from the mass of players for not a scoop and score but a steal and score and Lebanon’s second touchdown of the night. Riverdale needed a response, or they risked the game getting away from them. They put together a strong drive, establishing the run game with strength and physicality and as they worked their way into the red zone the clock expired on the first quarter.

Lebanon’s front seven was all over Riverdale Quarterback Braden Graham. The Blue Devils forced a pivotal third and ten from the 15-yard line. Coming out of a timeout, Graham stepped up in the pocket and went for the end zone, barely missing a streaking receiver down the sideline. Riverdale sent out the field goal team needing points. The kick was higher than the goalposts and probably would’ve been good from 30+ had it not been wide left. The score remained 14-0 Lebanon. The Blue Devil offense came out and immediately went to Crowell who made Herring miss and scampered down the sideline for a near 40-yard gain and then had another big catch and run down inside the red zone. Jaylen Abston finished the drive off with a one-yard touchdown run, extending the lead to 21-0. It was now or never for the Warrior offense, and they were unable to gain even one first down. They punted the ball back to Abston and Crowell and would have to survive another possession. It seemed Riverdale was being suffocated by Lebanon but were able to fight for a breath and forced a punt. They inhaled a deep breath of oxygen and looked to get back in the game before the half with six minutes left on the clock. DJ Taylor exploded for near 35-yard run that almost went the distance. Another breath. DJ Taylor with a 30-yard run on a massive 4th and two near mid-field. Another breath. Braden Graham runs over a defender for a Riverdale touchdown… life. Riverdale had life. If they could avoid Lebanon scoring with 2:34 remaining in the half and doubling up after half time it would still be anyone’s game. Lebanon was able to move the ball to the 45 but no more. Riverdale forced a fourth down and to keep The Warriors from scoring, Lebanon let the time trickle down to one second and took a knee. Going into the locker room, our score in this win or go home playoff game, Lebanon 21 Riverdale 7

As the second half began, the importance of the first defensive series for Riverdale could not be understated. Jaylen Abston would once again pick up a big third down and The Blue Devils were on the move. After moving the ball to the five-yard line for a first down and goal Lebanon would try the run and find no room. A false start backed them up to the 11 for second and goal and an offsides call made it the 16. No room was found up the middle for Abston making it third down and goal from the 14-yard line. Abston rolled out to the right and with the pressure of the defense the playoffs barreling down on him, delivered a strike to Key Crowell to make it 28-7 Lebanon.  With four minutes remaining in the third quarter, Riverdale needed points. They decided to ride the hot hand, feeding DJ Taylor the ball on the ground and through the air. Taylor came up big and delivered the points his team needed with a 15-yard touchdown run. With 2:41 remaining in the third, Riverdale had cut the lead to 28-14. If they could not stop the Blue Devil offense that had been gashing them all night, it wouldn’t matter, and unfortunately for Lebanon they lost their Quarterback Abston who had been so solid all night early in the drive. After missing two plays, he returned in time for a fourth down try. Lebanon’s leader had returned to try to take control of the game. It was too little too late as he was stopped early of the line to gain. Riverdale had a chance to make it a one score game. With :11 seconds left in the third Coach Kriesky decided to go for a haymaker. Riverdale receiver Jaylen Thompson went streaking down his right-hand sideline and Graham put up a beautiful pass that hit him in stride. After breaking a tackle Thompson walked in for a 65-yard touchdown. With 12 minutes to go, we had a one score playoff game. 28-21 Lebanon.

The fourth quarter began with Lebanon’s offense needing to return serve. After a run for no gain and a failed deep ball of their own, Lebanon faced third and 10 from their own 35. Then, exactly what Lebanon couldn’t have happen happened. Three false starts in a row would make it third and 26 from their own 19. The Warriors smelled blood. After a tipped pass that was nearly intercepted, Riverdale received the ball, looking to tie. Unfortunately for them, as the Lebanon crowd came alive, they would be turned away on a third and long. The following punt would be downed beautifully at the half yard line. If Lebanon was going to extend their lead, it was going to take every inch of the field to do so. After two runs with no gain and one almost being a safety and an incomplete pass Lebanon punted back to Riverdale. The momentum had swung. You could feel it in the air. Just when everything was going against Lebanon, on Riverdale’s second play of the drive they coughed up the football and Lebanon jumped on it. This was it. The drive for the game. A stop gives Riverdale one last chance. A couple first downs or points for Lebanon sends them to the second round. It came down to a third and one yard. Riverdale, with their season on the line refused to even give up an inch and The Blue Devils had to punt. With 3:43 remaining in the game Riverdale had a shot. You can watch the drive below.

Touchdown Riverdale with 43 seconds to go in the game from who else but DJ Taylor. We were all tied up in this 6A playoff war. Lebanon received the kick barely escaping disaster with some trouble corralling the squib and kneeled the ball content to go to overtime.

The first possession of overtime went to Riverdale, and after Graham delivered a strike to Tight End, Ryan Edmiston in the back of the endzone, disaster struck. The snap on the extra point was not clean. The holder had to scramble to throw the ball and it fell incomplete. Lebanon would just need a touchdown and an extra point to win. Anthony Crowell took the handoff and darted towards the endzone bulldozing a defender on his way into the endzone. It seemed Lebanon had won, but Crowell was so excited that he spiked the football. This is considered an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and backed the extra point up 15 yards. You can watch this sequence below.

Wide left. Riverdale was alive, and we were headed to double overtime. Lebanon had the ball first which did not give them the luxury of knowing how many points they needed to stay alive, so past third down you are most likely taking your three points excluding an unconventional call or short yardage to go. Lebanon faced a third down and turned to the player that had made a difference with his legs all night. Jaylen Abston took the handoff, rolled left, took it himself, and rumbled into the endzone. The PAT was good, and the pressure was on Riverdale. They had four downs to keep their season alive. After a short run and two incomplete passes, it all came down to one play.  Graham rolled to his right. No receiver was open. He stalled, extended, waited as long as he could. He saw a receiver and put the ball up into the endzone. Incomplete. Lebanon moved on the second round.

MVP

We have Co-MVPs tonight as the Crowell brothers were both nice enough to talk to me. Anthony and Key do everything for the Blue Devils and almost never leave the field. They played with everything they had and this is what they had to say post game.

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