LACEY – As impressive as River Ridge’s offense has been during its winning streak, Thursday night’s homecoming victory just might’ve been the defensive effort that Hawks coach Steve Schultz has been waiting to see.
Trailing 13-7 at halftime, the Hawks held Black Hills out of the end zone in the second half and intercepted a potential tying touchdown in the final minute to secure a 20-13 comeback victory over the Wolves in the teams’ 2A Evergreen Conference football opener at South Sound Stadium.
River Ridge (4-1 overall, 1-0 EvCo) stretched its winning streak to four games. Since the Hawks’ 20-0 loss to Timberline in Week 1, they’ve outscored their opponents 143-67 and scored a school-record 61 points Sept. 15 against Ridgefield.
But Thursday night, it was their defense that was the difference.
The Hawks sealed their win after Black Hills reached the River Ridge 27 in the final minute of the game.
The 5-foot-7 Chris Leiba, who scored the touchdown that gave the Hawks a 14-13 lead, made an interception in the end zone on a pass intended for 6-footer Shayne Robinson.
It was an exclamation mark on the defense’s effort in the second half, when it held the Wolves to 103 yards of offense.
“Our defense has been keeping us in games all year,” Schultz said. “Our defense has been doing a great job, and we relied on them at the end.”
Leiba had a 24-yard touchdown run to put River Ridge ahead midway through the third quarter.
The lead increased to seven when Wesley Coats caught a 37-yard touchdown pass with 10:21 remaining in the game. It came on a gutsy play call by Schultz after he called a timeout with his team facing a third-and-15 play from the 37.
In River Ridge’s 28-14 non-league win over Hockinson last week, Coats had a game-high 126 yards on seven catches.
“We had to get it to our athlete (Coats),” Schultz said. “I knew that if we emptied out (the backfield), they had to cover up, and that would reduce the pressure. We had to get it to him somehow.”
Black Hills (3-2, 0-1) led 13-7 at halftime, thanks to touchdown runs of 37 and 10 yards by Conrad Nygren. He finished with 81 yards on nine carries.
River Ridge totaled just 106 yards of offense in the first half, with 69 yards coming on one play – Brad Wallace’s 69-yard first-quarter touchdown that tied the game at 7-all.
Wallace finished with a game-high 157 yards on 18 email@example.com 360-754-5473 theolympian.com/southsoundsports