Football season is finally upon us as the Friday night lights have returned. The Raiders’ opener was at home on Friday night against a Woodcreek Wolf Pack team who blew them out 42-14 last season. This time, one of the most raucous crowds ever seen at a Rio football game packed the Del Campo stadium.
This season comes with heightened optimism surrounding a Rio squad that returns many of their skill position players from last year. However, with the loss of last year’s starting half back Jack Cartwright, the Raiders face a tall task of finding a replacement for that position. Junior Peter Anderson was lined up with the first string offense in warm-ups, however split time with senior Ritchie Felix during the game.
The Raiders received possession first, and senior quarterback Mitchel Dixon wasted no time finding his number one target, fellow senior Savion Ponce. After they connected twice in the drive, Felix took a carry up the middle into the red zone. The drive was capped off by Dixon executing a run-pass option perfectly for a score from three yards out.
However, Woodcreek answered with a scoring drive of their own, led by senior running back Grant Dinger. Using the option offense, the Wolf Pack were able to get Dinger into open space, ripping off three straight runs of ten or more yards.
The possession was topped off by Dinger punching in a score from one yard out. Woodcreek would convert on a two-point conversion, giving them a 8-7 lead.
After the Raiders’ next drive stalled out, Ponce came on to punt. He blasted high, long kick over the returner’s head. The ball took an extremely favorable bounce for Rio, eventually being downed at the two yard line, resulting in a 67-yard punt.
Early in the second, Dixon made his first mistake of the game, throwing a bad interception to Woodcreek senior corner Tyler Panlilio. He was attempting to hit a receiver on a crossing route, but overthrew him, gift wrapping an extra possession to the Wolf Pack.
Dixon recovered on the next drive, delivering a beautiful throw to senior wide receiver Jason Solis. On the ensuing play, Ponce ran a curl route on the right side of the field. Dixon delivered a strike, and Ponce beat the man coverage on him and blew past everyone for a 67-yard touchdown.
Later in the second quarter, Rio once again drove down the field. This was a long drive capped off with Dixon hitting Ponce again on a corner route in the back of the end zone from 20 yards out. Dixon would finish with a game-high 224 yards and three touchdown passes.
Late in the quarter, Dixon threw his second interception which set up Woodcreek on offense, who drove down the field to get three more points going into the halftime break, bringing the score to 21-11.
The Wolf Pack opened the half with a scoring drive and drew within two points of the lead. Once again however, the Raider offense responded. This time, runners Ritchie Felix and Peter Anderson lead the attack, splitting carries on a possession that eventually ended with Anderson sneaking into the endzone from four yards out. Rio rushed for 142 yards as a team with three touchdowns.
By the end of the quarter, Felix had also scored himself, making it 35-19 at the end of the third period.
Shades of last season’s fourth quarter woes came to light in the final period of Friday’s matchup for Rio. Colley lead his team to a score, making it a one-possession game. When the Raiders got the ball back, they faced a tough fourth down and seven from Woodcreek territory.
Head coach Sami Stroughter opted to go for it on fourth, putting the game in Dixon’s hands. He delivered a perfect pass over the middle, a very similar play to the one he was picked off twice, resulting in a fourth quarter touchdown. Although Wookcreek scored one more time and attempted an onside kick in the final minutes, it was not enough to overcome the Raiders.
As players exited the field, the final score stood at 42-35.
For the first time in almost two years, Rio has a winning record, giving hope of their first success in the new league.