Buffalo Gap held James River scoreless for three quarters and nine minutes before the Knights rallied, twice, for a big opening night football win Friday. River took a 13-12 victory in Springwood.
“Our kids kept fighting back,” said River coach Tim Jennings. “Our defense played lights out and our kids never gave up.”
River trailed 6-0 at the half on a 33-yard touchdown run by Blake Robertson of the Bison. However, the extra point kick failed and that’s the way the score stayed when River took possession with time running out in the third quarter.
At that point, River went on a 17-play, 62-yard march to pay dirt that ate up nine minutes and 20 seconds of clock, including running plays on 15 of the 17 snaps. River converted four times on fourth downs with Gavin Binns scoring on a fourth down run from the 11-yard line. Evan Byers kicked the extra point to give the Knights a 7-6 lead.
The euphoria of that score was short-lived; however, as Robertson ran the ensuing kickoff back 85 yards. After River used 9:20 to take the lead they only needed 12 seconds to lose it, but the Knights were able to stuff a two-point conversion attempt and that would prove to be big with a 12-7 deficit and 2:47 still remaining.
“That’s the second year in a row they ran back a kickoff for a touchdown, and we just can’t allow that to happen,” said Jennings. “They went straight up the middle.”
Down five points with time running out, the Knights didn’t panic. Senior quarterback Zeal Hammons engineered a scoring drive in just a minute and 26 seconds to regain the lead. The possession included a Zeal to Trey Jackson to Binns “hook and ladder” play that went for 21 yards on fourth down with seven yards to go, keeping the drive alive. River had run the play unsuccessfully just before the half, but this time it worked like a charm.
With the ball at the 17 and about a minute and a half on the clock, Hammons found Taylor on a slant and he took it 17 yards to the house. The extra point kick failed but that was a moot point as the Knights had a 13-12 lead. And this time, Jennings instructed the kickoff to be on the ground toward the sidelines to prevent another long run back.
“It actually went right down the middle to the 10-yard line, so we might as well have kicked it deep,” he said. “At least we were able to cover it this time.”
The River defense, that was stout all night, prevented the Bison from answering and River had a big win to open the season. Jennings credited his senior quarterback, Hammons, for staying cool down the stretch. The final drive included eight passes on nine plays as the Knights worked the sidelines with the clock running down.
“Zeal did a great job,” said Jennings. “As young as we are it’s huge to have a senior quarterback. You just knew he was in control of the huddle and he did a great job managing the clock.”
Hammons finished 10 for 17 passing for 138 yards, with Taylor catching six passes for 98 yards. Binns ran the ball 23 times for 121 yards as River finished with 262 total yards of offense.
On defense, Keegan Mundy led with 11 tackles, including four solos. Gabe Staton had nine tackles and Hammons had eight.
This Friday, the Knights will try to make it two in a row when they host Randolph-Henry, who is new to the schedule. The Statesmen opened with a 28-14 loss to Nelson County last week.
“They have some big linemen and three running backs who run hard behind the pads,” said Jennings. “In the open field it’s like tackling a truck.
“I hope we have another good crowd this week and benefit from the home field advantage. The crowd was great last week.”