The Lehman Cavaliers used a backup quarterback playing his first varsity game at that position, key plays from its defense when they had to be made and a perfect performance by…it’s KICKER to subdue Riverside and stay in the playoff hunt.
Piqua—The Lehman Cavaliers had never lost to the Riverside Pirates.
In a series that dates back to 2001, the Cavaliers were a perfect 6-0 against the Logan County Pirates, and by an average margin of 48-10. Lehman had all they could handle last season before handing Riverside a 26-21 loss, and expected more of the same when the teams collided at Piqua’s Alexander Stadium.
They almost got more than they bargained for.
Despite a 17-point lead as the fourth quarter began, Lehman found itself holding on for dear life in the final minutes. Dick Roll’s team couldn’t breathe a sigh of relief until senior Jared Rourke intercepted an overthrown pass down the middle of the field, sealing the Cavaliers 35-30 victory.
Lehman improves to 4-2 with its fourth straight win, while the Pirates fall to 4-2.
The game started out as though both teams would reach 50. The first 6 possessions of the game ended in the end zone, but Lehman had a 21-18 lead because of the proficiency of placekicker Michael Denning. The 6-1, 180 pound sophomore made all five of his PATs on the evening, the difference in the game when Riverside failed to convert a single point after touchdown.
“You know, we have had a great kicking game really ever since I have been here,” said a relieved Lehman coach Dick Roll. “Some of them have been soccer players, but we have always had a good kicking game. It certainly paid off for us tonight.”
To recap the wild opening period, the Pirates Caleb Stevens galloped 47 yards for a score on the second play of the game. Stevens finished the night with 99 yards on 9 carries. 6-0 Riverside.
Lehman responded immediately. Sophomore quarterback Elliot Gilardi, who suffered a concussion when he was slammed to the ground at the end of a second quarter run and had to leave the game, threw a swing pass to Brandon Barhorst in the left flat on the Cavaliers third play of the game. Barhorst turned the corner and had nothing but green grass, uh, turf in front of him for a 61 yard score. Denning’s first kick made it 7-6.
Gaven Anderson scored for the Pirates to make it 12-7. After Dylan Arnold (more about him in a moment) returned the kickoff to the Pirate 18, Gilardi scored from 2 yards out. 14-12 Cavs. Two plays later, Hayden Robinson out-ran the Cavalier defense for a 78 yard score. 18-14 Pirates. And Arnold, one play after the Gilardi injury, on his first snap as a varsity quarterback, ran 6 yards to put the Cavaliers back up 21-18.
“It’s a game of adjustments,” Roll continued. “Our assistant coaches did a good job of moving some people around to take away what they were doing. It happens every game. No matter what you think you are going to do, you have to make adjustments, and once we did the defense played much better.”
Played better to the point of keeping the Pirates off the board for 7 straight possessions from early in the second quarter to early in the fourth while the Cavaliers built a lead.
“The defense played real well,” said Roll, in somewhat of an unusual statement after a team gives up 30 points. “We let a couple of guys get behind us, and we can’t do that. We came into the game wanting to stop the run, and after that bad start, we did. They probably threw the ball more tonight than they did in the rest of their games combined.”
Before the end of the half, Arnold threw an 11-yard scoring pass to Barhorst, and then hooked up with Seth Brown on a beautiful 27 yard scoring strike midway through the third quarter. The Cavs had a 35-18 lead and all seemed right in the world of Lehman, but then strange things began to transpire.
Arnold fumbled and Riverside recovered on the Lehman 8 with 27 seconds left in the third quarter. It took the Pirates all four downs, but Anderson finally got into the end zone to make it 35-24. Then, the Cavaliers mishandled an onside kick, and the Pirates recovered at the Lehman 49. The Pirates suddenly found their offense again and drove 51 yards in nine plays, and when Stevens went in from the five for his second score of the night, the unimaginable 20 minutes earlier now seemed quite possible. Lehman led just 35-30.
Riverside got the ball back for one more drive, starting at their 23 with 4:09 to play. They made it to the Lehman 46 and had the Cavalier crowd squirming in their seats before Rourke intercepted the overthrown pass from Trey Helmlinger and returned it to the Riverside 33 yard line, sealing the win.
Arnold came on at quarterback when Gilardi got hurt and, except for the fumble, was superb. The 5-10, 155 pound senior rushed for 37 yards, scoring one touchdown on the ground and throwing for two more.
Roll was not surprised at the play of his senior.
“I think we have three of the best quarterbacks in the league; Elliot, Dylan and Cam Lee. Elliot didn’t practice Monday because of a lower back injury, so we worked Cam and Dylan in there. That was a blessing in disguise as it turned out, the way things went tonight.”
His coach might not have been surprised by the way that Arnold played, but Arnold was.
“I’m on a real high right now,” said the three sport athlete. “That was my first ever game at quarterback, and I was surprised with how I played. I didn’t have a great week of practice, but when I went in there, my teammates picked me up and expected leadership from me. That’s what I tried to give them.”
“Expectations for this team are always high,” Arnold continued. “We lost to the state champs in the playoffs last season, and gave them a great game in the opener. We just want to keep working and get back and see where we can take this thing.”
“This was a big win for us,” Roll said as he headed out of the locker-room. “That’s a quality program and they had been playing real well. We thought we had to have this one to get to the next step. We have Hardin next week, and we can’t look past those guys, and then we have Loramie. They are playing better and that’s going to be a great game. I’m happy. We have been getting better every week, and we took another step tonight.”