GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — Jerrod Sparling stressed the situation wasn’t stressful.
Instead, he insisted his Raiders were calm, cool and collected customers.
And in the end — and even amid all the testiness, anxiety and adversity visiting River Valley faced on Saturday night — the Raiders did something they’ve never done before, but something they said they would indeed do.
That’s defeat the archrival Gallia Academy Blue Devils at Memorial Field, as the Raiders raced out to a 14-0 halftime lead before scoring in the final minute-and-a-half to triumph 20-7 in Gallipolis.
The contest marked the second annual Ohio Valley Bank Community Bowl between the two Gallia County clubs, as the Raiders retain the traveling trophy for at least another year.
River Valley is now 3-10 all-time against Gallia Academy, with the other victory besides the now back-to-back coming 20 years ago.
The Raiders also won at historic Memorial Field for the first time in six tries.
For the Blue Devils, it was their 11th consecutive non-league loss in football, while River Valley is now 10-1 in its last 11 in the non-league regular season.
However, Saturday’s win was as difficult and hard-earned as they can conceivably come.
Besides being in hostile territory, the Raiders had to overcome two second-half turnovers — and an astounding 14 penalties for 138 yards, including half of which were 15-yard personal-foul calls.
They also had to make, maintaining a 14-7 fourth-quarter lead, two defensive stops — including inside their own 5-yard-line at the outset of the fourth period.
After Sparling spoke to his team in postgame along the goal-line, the Raiders dashed to midfield to claim the OVB Community Bowl Trophy for the second straight season.
The sixth-year River Valley coach said “stressful” wasn’t the right word, but he did have a look of relief — and definitely a feeling of pride.
“We’ve been in a lot of big games the last few years, and played in a lot of situational football, so I don’t think it was very stressful where anybody on our sideline freaked out or anything like that. I think frustrating is more like it. The truth is this was really the first adversity we’ve faced all season. We played sloppy football at times and it wasn’t pretty at times. We got away from our identity and we had several pre-snap and post-snap penalties. Give credit to them (Blue Devils) for making some plays and making it a ballgame, but I thought our kids’ hearts showed up in the fourth quarter with a couple of defensive stops and when we went on about a four-and-a-half minute drive to ice it,” said Sparling. “That’s the by-product of playing in a lot of big games in the last few years and knowing how to win. We have that going for us now and our seniors stepped when it really mattered.”
And, when it mattered most was the final 13 minutes and 16 seconds.
With River Valley leading 14-7, and with 1:16 remaining in the third period, Gallia Academy recovered a Raider fumble at the RVHS 41-yard-line.
The Blue Devils drove nine plays to as far as the River Valley 3, as Gallia Academy quarterback Justin McClelland completed a 22-yard pass to Garrett Burns and a 19-yarder to Wyatt Sipple to set up 1st-and-goal at the 7.
But a fumble two plays later resulted in a loss of seven yards to the 10, as McClelland’s pass on 3rd-and-goal fell short of Burns in the end zone.
Finally, with 10-and-a-half minutes remaining, the Raider defense tackled McClelland at the 8 to force the turnover on downs.
“Their (Raiders) defense made the right plays at the right times. Whether it was a couple of red zone plays or some short-yardage plays, they made the stop on us,” said Gallia Academy coach Josh Riffe. “We felt like the third quarter and into the fourth, things were going our way. We scored and got the ball back, but couldn’t make anything else happen. We couldn’t sustain drives or when we got to the red zone right there at the start of the fourth quarter, we couldn’t finish the drive.”
The Raiders, conversely, did finish their drive with only a minute-and-a-half to play.
Following the final of five Raider punts, and another Blue Devil turnover on downs after four plays at the Gallia Academy 44, River Valley — starting at the 6:07 mark — marched eight plays before tacking on the game-clinching touchdown.
Both quarterback Patrick Brown and running back Jacob Campbell carried four times apiece, as Campbell capped off the drive with a 7-yard run for his second score of the night.
Campbell — who rushed for 50 yards on 13 attempts — carried only four times in the entire second half , but all four came on that clinching possession with runs of 10, 13 and finally seven yards.
“We haven’t had a gut-check moment yet this year until tonight, and we had a few tonight, some of which were the result of our own doing,” said Sparling. “But we’ve been in big games before and it showed towards the end.”
Brown rushed for 64 yards on 18 totes, as the Raiders racked up 169 yards on 38 rushes.
They also doubled up the Blue Devils in first downs (18-9), and outgained Gallia Academy 276-122.
“It took some time, and what we saw from them defensively was somewhat different than what we’ve seen from scouting them or from film on them. Give credit to them, they did a lot of things to screw us up. It took us a while to figure out exactly what we should be doing, with some of the sets and motions to use, but once we did, the kids played really well and we put them in positions to be successful,” said Sparling.
Brown completed 11-of-18 passes for 107 yards.
After forcing the Blue Devils into their first of three three-and-out possessions, part of four punts overall, the Raiders quickly drove six plays and 88 yards in only a minute and 27 seconds.
Brown completed passes on the first five plays, including three to Jacob Dovenbarger for 23 yards and a 30-yarder to Dustin Barber to the Blue Devil 13.
On the final play, Campbell carried the final 13 yards to make it 6-0 at the 8:53 mark of the opening quarter.
Devin McDonald made the first of his two extra-point kicks, as the game stood 7-0 until the final 37 seconds of the second stanza.
In between, River Valley punted three times and Gallia Academy twice — with both of the Blue Devils’ boots coming after three-and-outs.
The Blue Devils did drive inside the Raider 25 twice, including to the 13 midway through the second quarter, but Jarret McCarley and Tre Craycraft broke up two McClelland passes into the end zone.
The Raiders finally made it 14-0 late in the half, once again driving six plays — and this time 61 yards in 98 seconds.
Brown completed an 11-yarder to Craycraft, before Layne Fitch took an end around 22 yards to the Blue Devil 26.
Brown then called his own number for 22 and nine yards, as Fitch — an another jet sweep — scored from three yards out with 37 seconds to play.
However, Gallia Academy sliced the deficit in half halfway through the third period, as Cole Davis intercepted Brown at the River Valley 24 on the Raiders’ second series — and returned the ball to the 8.
Three plays later, McClelland connected with Colton Campbell on the short slant route from five yards away — as Ty Howell had the extra point to make it 14-7 at the 7:09 mark.
After the Raiders’ only three-and-out, the Blue Devils got the ball back near midfield, but Craycraft intercepted McClelland along the sideline at the Raider 14 at the four-minute point.
Then, five-and-a-half minutes later, the Raiders denied the Devils inside the 10-yard-line with 10-and-a-half minutes to go.
“I can’t say enough about our kids’ effort tonight, nor can I say enough about our 22-year-old defensive coordinator (Stephen Brown) who called a lights out football game,” said Sparling. “We bent a little bit, but it was penalties more than anything. We have to clean that up, but players win games and that is what they did.”
McClelland completed 10 of his 24 passes for 79 yards, with Sipple making three receptions for 48.
McClleland was also the Blue Devils’ leading rusher with 20 totes and 19 yards, part of only 43 (on 33 carries) total including minus-18 in the second half.
“They (Raiders) did a good job defensively. They kept us in front of them and got us on the ground quickly in the open field, where we couldn’t make the big play,” said Riffe. “It was that way all night even we were moving the ball.”
The Blue Devils didn’t do much better with penalties, committing 10 for 110 yards with half of them being 15-yard personal fouls.
Riffe said most of Saturday night’s chippiness is the result of the rivalry aspect.
“We don’t like to see all the personal fouls, but both sides played really hard. It was a good competitive game, and it was nice to see both sides flying around to the ball,” he said. “We can and will get better from a game like this. You do that when you compete in games that are hard-fought and competitive. I believe we will be a better team next week than we were this past week.”
And, on Friday, the Blue Devils travel across the Ohio River to face current West Virginia powerhouse Point Pleasant.
The Raiders, meanwhile, return to the road — and return to non-league action on Friday night — at South Point.
Sparling said that each game presents its own unique situations, and winning at Gallia Academy for the first time relieves its own perceived stress.
“For us, this (winning at Memorial Field) is a first, so that is a credit to their (Blue Devils) program and the things they’ve been able to do in this rivalry. But the last couple of years, anytime you beat ‘Blue’, that’s a great day and it honestly buys you another year’s worth of peace in this county,” he said. “We’re very humble to come out of here with a win. We respect their tradition and everything they do, but we have our own identity, our own brand and we’re pretty proud of our kids too.”
J.P. Davis contributed to this report
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106