The River Pilots needed to beat the Frontier Cougars to make the Ohio Division VI, Region 23 playoffs. And they did just that in a 44-19 decision over the Cougars Oct. 27 at Alumni Field in New Martinsville.
The Pilots rushed for 377 yards and scored six touchdowns, while holding the Cougars to -18 yards rushing and making 12 tackles for even more lost real estate. Those tackles included three quarterback sacks.
River won the pre-game toss and elected to go on defense. The Cougars moved the chains twice on fourth down and were about to punt. However, the snap went over the punter's head and the Pilots took over at the 27 yard line.
A pair of Jordan Sapp runs moved the ball to the Cougar seven yard line, where-upon Nick Asturi would finish the short drive with a seven-yard score. After the Colton Wright PAT, the Pilots enjoyed a 7-0 lead.
Frontier ran the ensuing kickoff back 25 yards to start its second series at their own 37 yard line. Pilot Jonathan Stewart made one of his four tackles for loss of yardage and forced a punt. After the short punt, Sapp would take it to the house from 46 yards out to extend River's lead to 14-0.
In the second period, the Pilots' Nick Asturi scored on a 47-yard run to put the Pilots up 21-0. However, the Cougars quickly recovered and scored their first touchdown on a nifty 67-yard bomb that pulled them to 21-7 after the conversion kick.
River fumbled the ball on the ensuing kick, but the defense - behind a pair of negative rushes and an incomplete pass - would hold the Cougars on downs at their own 15 yard line. However, the Frontier defense did its thing and forced a River three-and-out, taking over at their own 43-yard line.
The Cougars went to the air, but Pilot Cody Caldwell made a nice defensive effort and knocked a sure TD out of Harm's Way. But, the Cougars would later move the chains on a fourth and five. After another Frontier first down, the Cougars scored on a 20-yard pass play. But Stewart batted away the extra point.
Frontier made things interesting, recovering yet another Pilot fumble at their own 35 yard line. However, the Pilot defense made a tackle for loss and Stewart sacked the QB to force a Frontier punt.
Starting at River's own 14 yard line, Stewart ran for big yardage and Sapp and Asturi tacked on positive yardage. But the drive would stall after a pair of Pilot trick plays failed - a Fumble-ruskie and a Statue of Liberty.
With 1:50 left in the first half, the Pilot defense made another tackle for loss. However, the Cougar quarterback made a nice run, hurdling a Pilot defender for a first down.
Frontier completed a pas to the Pilot 26 yard line before time expired in the opening half with River on top 21-13.
The Pilots started to pull away in the third period when Sapp scored on a nine-yard run. The Pilot defense scored two back-to-back safeties-one on a J. D. Dotson quarterback sack and the other on a Garth Richter tackle in the endzone to put the game out of reach for Frontier.
But the Cougars would not quit and, with less than a minute left in the game, they scored again. After the ensuing kick, the Pilots scored on the final play of the game when Bailey Reusser took a handoff from Joey Flannery and traveled 69 yards for the score as time expired.
"We jumped on them, but we kind of took a break and got a little too comfortable with the lead," said Pilot Head Coach Mike Flannery. "Our kids knew this could be our last game, and they showed up and played their hearts out.
"I am really proud of these kids because they played lights out. I can't ask for a greater bunch of kids than we have, and I really believe it would be a crime if we aren't in the playoffs next week," added Flannery.
Asturi rushed for 151 yards and scored twice, eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Sapp added 107 yards and scored two times, while Reusser tacked on 78 yards on only four carries. Stewart rushed for 42 yards, while Richter, Caldwell, Bryce Cross, Zac Smith, C. J. Honeycutt, Brett Rosen, Cole Isaly, and Joey Flannery each tacked on yardage for the Pilot ground game.
Caldwell completed 4-6 passes to four different receivers for 44 yards. Dallas Necessary, for 17 yards; Kameron Brown, 11 yards; Cross, 10 yards; and Richter, seven yards.
Defensively, Cross and Dotson both had eight tackles to lead the Pilots, with Dotson adding a QB sack and causing a safety. Meanwhile, Cross added a quarterback sack. Reusser made eight tackles, four of which went for negative yardage, including three QB sacks. Stewart added seven tackles, made a QB sack, and blocked an extra point kick.
The Pilots finished the regular season 7-3. With the win over Frontier and a loss by Bishop Rosecrans, the Pilots will play top-seeded Danville at 7 p.m. on Friday, at Danville.