River Coach Jake Phillips gives instructions to Michael Hays during Friday’s game with Radford.
Photo by Ed McCoy

James River stayed alive in the VHSL football playoff race with an overtime win over Radford last Friday night. Coulter Hodges ran a fourth down play into the end zone for an exciting 21-18 overtime win in Springwood.

“It was a good win,” said River coach Jake Phillips. “We had a little more fight this week. You could see it in their body language and you could see it in their play. As the game progressed they had the mindset that they were going to win this game.”

This was a nail-biter from start to finish. River scored first on a seven-yard pass from Hodges to Michael Taylor and Michael Hays ran for a two-point conversion. Radford then tied the game on a 66-yard run in the second quarter, and a two-point conversion had the game knotted at 8-8 at the half.

“They have some really good athletes,” said Phillips. “They hit us for a couple big plays, but for the most part our defense played lights out. They have two running backs who were among the most elusive we’ve seen all year, but we did a great job of bottling them up and tackling.”

After a scoreless third period Radford took a 15-8 lead in the fourth on a 55-yard pass play. River turned the ball over midway through the period, but Daniel Holter came up with a big interception and the Knights drove for a touchdown with about four minutes on the clock.

A big play in that drive was a third and long completion from Hodges to Kevin Austin. Also, Erik Tolley recovered a River fumble on the Bobcats’ one yard line, allowing Hodges to score from the one. At that point, down 15-14, Phillips decided to go for two and the lead until the line moved, and the Knights were penalized five yards. At that point River Clonch came on to kick the point and tie the game.

River stopped Radford on the ensuing possession, and the Knights didn’t have enough time to mount a final drive in regulation, sending the game into overtime.

Radford had the ball first in overtime. After two plays of one yard and no gain River was called for pass interference on third down. A third down play was stopped at the one and Radford elected to kick a field goal, which was good.

“We had stopped them twice in short yardage situations early in the game,” said Phillips. “The way we were playing defense, they decided to go for the field goal.”

River got the ball next, down three, and the first two plays resulted in a one-yard gain and a loss. On third and long a tight end screen was stopped at the 12. With fourth and 12 Phillips considered the field goal, but the players talked him into going for it.

“River (Clonch) has been kicking well, but they really wanted to go for it,” he said. “They wanted to win this game right then and there.”

A Radford penalty moved the ball up five yards, but then the Knights false started and it moved it back to the 12. When a play was finally run it was a rollout to the left for Hodges with an option for Coulter to run or pass. He froze the linebacker as he considered his options, then took off for the end zone, putting his head down at the three and bulling his way over the line.

“I learned my lesson against Covington,” said Phillips of a previous overtime loss. “This time we put the ball in the hands of our best player, and he wasn’t going to be denied.”

The final 12 yards gave Hodges an even 100 yards rushing for the game on 28 carries. He also passed for 138 yards, completing 16 of 27.

Clonch had 17 yards rushing and caught seven passes for 77 yards. Taylor caught four passes for 17 yards, Tolley had three for 29 and Austin had two for 15.

On defense Holter led with 11 tackles and had the key late-game interception, along with two tackles for losses and a sack. Luke Peay had 10 tackles and Taylor had seven tackles, a partially blocked punt, two pass breakups and three tackles for losses. Logan Williamson had six tackles and Levi Walker had five.

With the win River improved to 3-5 on the season with two games remaining.

“It was an absolute team effort,” said Phillips. “Our guys put their heads down and decided there was no way they were going to lose this thing.

 

THIS WEEK’S GAME

 

This week the Knights will travel to Floyd County to play the Buffaloes. Floyd is a Three Rivers District opponent and a fellow Group 2A school.

The Buffaloes come in at 6-2 overall and their only losses have been to the two best teams in the district, Giles and Glenvar. Coach Winfred Beale is the dean of coaches in the district, and most of Southwest Virginia, as he’s in his 37th season as head coach with a record of 216-170-4.

Floyd has a big, strong offensive line and a talented running back in Jarrett Agee. They play old school, power football.

“They have a great defense and they’re very physical,” said River coach Jake Phillips. “They run the I formation and come right at you.”

This is a huge game for James River if the Knights hope to make the Region 2C playoffs. The Knights are currently ranked 11th and only eight make the playoffs. However, they can pick up some good points with a win as Floyd is the fourth ranked team. Next week, River plays weak Carroll, so if the Knights can pull off the win at Floyd they’re looking at 5-5 for the regular season and a possible playoff spot.

“If we win out I think we’re in, but if we lose this week we’re definitely out,” said Phillips.

 

KEY TO THE GAME

 

“It’s going to come down to the line play, and how we’re able to hold our blocks against their big line,” said Phillips.

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