Senior Night at Albemarle High School featured Patriots’ running back Niko Troche taking snaps in Wildcat formations; Riverbend’s listed starting tight end running a “Tim Tebow package” as quarterback for the entire first half; and, ultimately, an onsides kick bouncing loose on the ground in the final minute of a one-score game.
However, just as with most games during Albemarle’s tenure in the Commonwealth District, the visitors emerged from the pile with the ball, thus securing a 28-20 victory.
“Unfortunately, I think it just goes back to a few mistakes we made at the beginning where we gave up a couple (of) big plays,” said Albemarle coach Mike Alley. “It’s no particular player’s fault. It happens, but we have to learn that the whole team needs to bounce back and play a full four quarters.”
The Patriots certainly earned the respect of the opposition.
“On film, I personally think that Albemarle has one of the best running back, receiver and tackle trios in the Commonwealth,” said Riverbend coach Tony DeMarco. “They’ve got to be one of the better 1-7 teams in the dang state. I can’t believe it.”
Albemarle moved the ball 58 yards on the game’s opening 8-play drive to take a 6-0 lead on a 10-yard run by Troche. Then, after the Patriot defense held for a quick three-and-out, the game’s first big mistake came on a roughing the punter penalty that gave Riverbend a first down. Two plays later, senior Jamie Deason tossed a screen pass out from the left hash toward the right sideline, which wideout Jaymz Jackson took 73 yards for a touchdown. Deason, listed as Riverbend’s starting tight end (at 6’3”, 230), was playing in what DeMarco called his Tim Tebow package.
“[Deason]’s such a great athlete,” said DeMarco. “He can play linebacker, D-end, quarterback, tight end, anywhere on the football field. He kind of reminds me of Tebow, and he got in there and did some good things for us. He’s a real smart ball player, and you get him running the ball a little bit and he’s hard to bring down.”
On the second play of Albemarle’s ensuing possession, Riverbend recovered an errant pitch in the backfield from Peyton Alley toward Troche. Deason, who played the entire first half at quarterback, hit junior Conner Booren for 21 yards to setup first and goal, and then found him again three plays later for a 2-yard touchdown.
“Definitely, the first couple drives went really well,” said Deason, who finished 5 of 10 passing for 113 yards and two scores, and rushed 4 times for 28 yards. “Everything seemed to be working the way we’ve been running it in practice. Conner Booren had some crazy catches, and everything was just going well for us.”
Looking for a spark midway through the second quarter, Mike Alley dialed up the Wildcat package for his offense, with Troche back in shotgun taking snaps. The Patriots gained 25 yards on the ground before back-to-back penalties stalled the drive.
“We did just put that [wildcat] in,” said Alley. “We’re without D.G. Archer and Jordan Shelton, who was our third guy on varsity. Our starting JV quarterback’s out with a broken collarbone, and then his backup on JV just got back. So we were down to one quarterback on two teams, and we had to do something different.”
The teams went in for halftime with Riverbend still leading 14-6, as Albemarle’s last drive in a scoreless second quarter came up empty when Eli MacKay’s 51-yard field goal attempt fell short. The Bears came out to start the second half with their listed starting quarterback, junior Eric Byrd, under center. An impressive 84-yard scoring drive featured passes to Booren and Deason, who shifted over to tight end, and runs by sophomore tailback Zach Sims. After a relatively quiet first half, Sims racked up 116 of his 169 yards in the second, including two touchdowns.
“The coaches were telling me, ‘I’m gonna break one, I’m gonna break one,’” said Sims. “So, I just kept pushing it up in there, and then everything opened up.”
Troche helped the Patriots answer right back, as he capped an eight-play, 81-yard drive with a dash to the endzone covering the last 23 yards. With the score 21-13, the Patriot defense forced a quick punt, and the offense followed suit. Troche and Drake Bryant traded handoffs over the first seven plays of the drive, which spanned the end of the third quarter and the first three and a half minutes of the fourth. Unfortunately for Albemarle, Alley was sacked for a 16-yard loss on 2nd and 8 from the Riverbend 14. Foregoing another field goal attempt, a pass to the endzone on 4th and 7 fell incomplete.
“We thought about the field goal, but since we were so close, we thought we’d take a shot at it,” said Alley. “We could’ve made the field goal, and still they could have scored, so you never know. I think since we were that close, you take a shot.”
As the clock ticked under four minutes, Sims started picking up chunks of yardage, including a 21-yard run down to the Albemarle 1. He scored on the next play to give the Bears a 28-13 lead with just 1:29 left. That’s when Alley led Albemarle back down the field in a hurry, hitting Matt Crist on back-to-back passes covering the last 70 yards, and a touchdown with 37 seconds left. Thanks to a roughing the passer penalty, Albemarle’s onside attempt was setup in Riverbend territory. MacKay’s kick bounced off a Bear receiver and was loose on the turf for a moment, but Riverbend managed to recover at the bottom of the pile.
For the game, Albemarle (1-8, 1-6) posted a balanced 322 yards of offense. Troche finished with 102 yards and 2 touchdowns on 22 carries. Peyton Alley completed 11 of 17 passes for 165 yards with a touchdown and no picks. The Patriots close on the road next week at Massaponax (6-3, 4-3). Riverbend (5-4, 4-3) heads home to prepare for a must-win game against Colonial Forge (7-2, 6-1) to try and secure a spot in the six-team Division 6, Northwest Region playoff field.