But an array of turnovers, penalties and mental miscues were too much to overcome as the Knights fell to Grady 27-17 in the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
“There is no doubt the mistakes did us in, and we made them on offense, defense and special teams (Friday),” River Ridge coach Robert Braucht said. “Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any that (Grady) made that hurt them — and sometimes that just tells the story.”
River Ridge three turnovers led directly to two Grady first-half touchdowns, and a blocked punt on their own end set the Grey Knights (9-2) up in prime field position for a third score. A missed chip-shot field goal in the second quarter didn’t help matters and with just over 2 minutes to go in the first half the homestanding Knights (5-6) were down 21-7.
But like the story was all season for a River Ridge — a team that started 0-3 with three consecutive blowout losses — the Knights bowed their backs and found their way back into the game.
River Ridge moved the length of the field on the ensuing 2-minute drill — using a variety of E.J. Ellis and Austin Terrell runs — before setting up kicker Wes Bearden for a 30-yard field goal that sent the game to halftime 21-10.
The Knights’ defense forced a pair of punts and a turnover on downs to open the second half and the offense began to find traction late in the third quarter.
Ellis, who finished with 145 yards on 28 carries, busted off runs of 11 and 20 yards to move River Ridge inside the 20 to start the fourth quarter, and Terrell galloped into the end zone from 13 yards out to cut the lead to 21-17 with 10:29 to play in the game.
“That was kind of the story for our team all season,” Braucht said. “Get down a little bit but come fighting back. (On Friday), though we just ran out of time.
“That’s the thing about my kids, though, and what makes me so proud to be their head coach, I know they are never going to give up.”
Grady ate nearly all of the remaining clock on it ensuing possession, moving 68 yards on 16 plays before quarterback Kivon Taylor scored on a fourth-down sneak to seal the game and a 27-17 final.
River Ridge outgained Grady 336-224 in total yardage, with nearly all of the damage coming on the ground.
Along with Ellis’ big night, quarterback Steven Spears ran for 106 yards on five carries — including an 82-yard scamper on the Knights’ first offensive play of the game. Terrell ran for 51 yards of his own on eight carries.
Hakeem Todd led the Grey Knights with 116 rushing yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
Grady will travel to Monroe Area in the second round of the playoffs next week.