Pilots End Season In Perfection
HANNIBAL – A perfect 10!
For the fourth time in school history, River has navigated its way to a 10-0 season. The state-ranked Pilots punctuated it with a 56-6 demolition of southern rival Frontier Friday night on Martin Flannery Field during Senior Night festivities.
The victory allows River – 9-0 by the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s standards as a win over the Columbus Crusaders isn’t recognized – to remain at home next Friday as the top seed in the first round of the Division VI, Region 23 playoffs.
“I’m proud of the kids,” River head coach Mike Flannery said. “At the beginning of the year we had a lot of unknowns and uncertainties. This shows the character of these kids and this staff because they kept things going in a positive direction when things could’ve easily unraveled given the circumstances.
“We faced a lot of adversity, but we’re excited to be in the playoffs and don’t really care who we play,” he added. “I know these kids will answer the bell.”
It was reward night, as well, for the Pilots as a trio of offensive linemen got to reach the end zone, and each was very thankful.
Leading 14-0 and having the ball at the Frontier 2 after a 35-yard interception return by Dakota Smith, junior quarterback Lukas Isaly took a snap from center and gave the ball to right tackle Mason Ladyga on an inside handoff. The big red head bulled his way across
the goalline for a 20-0 lead.
“It feels awesome. It’s a dream I’ve always had and I’m glad that Coach Flannery gave me the opportunity,” the 6-1, 240-pound Ladyga said as fans flooded the field.
With the score 42-0 early in the third quarter, Luke Matusik was the second linemen to record a six-pointer when he went in standing up from a yard out.
“I’ve never ran the ball before. I’ve always been blocking, but it’s nice blocking. I like it and all, but being able to run the ball my
last game of my senior year, that’s something awesome,” the 6-2, 205-pounder allowed. “I want to give Coach Flannery the credit for that. That was very thoughtful of him.”
Fullback-turned-linebacker Cody Saksa was the final one to punch it in. However, he almost didn’t make it as he covered a yard on fourth down.
“I didn’t think I was going to get it (the TD) honestly,” he admitted. “I want to thank my coaches for letting us score. It was
rewarding, very much.”River jumped out to a 28-0 lead after 12 minutes as everything that could good bad for the visiting Cougars (1-9) did, including losing the opening coin toss.
The Pilots, who have now won a dozen straight on the home turf, needed just 4 plays to go 51 yards on the first drive of the game.
Smith, one of 12 Pilots seniors, capped the 86-second march with a 3-yard run off the right side. Grant Williams kicked the first of his half-a-dozen placements for a 7-0 reading. Keying the drive was a 35-yard scamper by Drew Wagnild.
Following a Frontier punt, River went 62 yards on 4 plays as the shifty Isaly weaved his way in from 11 yards out on a fourth-and-1.
Williams made it 14-0.
Smith picked off a pass and returned it 35 yards to set up Ladyga’s short run. Braden Whetsell also scored on a 2-yard run in the first quarter. Isaly completed 6 of 8 passes for 193 yards and 2 scores, with all of that damage coming in the first half and most of it in the second quarter. He had scoring strikes of 23 yards to classmate Drew Dietz and 53 yards to junior Payton VanCamp.
Frontier avoided a shutout when TJ Dunn scored on a 9-yard run against the River reserves in the waning moments. He finished with a game-high 79 yards on 11 carries.
Whetsell led River with 60 yards on half-a-dozen carries. Dietz caught a trio of passes for 68 yards and VanCamp hauled in a pair of 84. The Cougars were limited to 102 total yards.
River’s other undefeated seasons came in 1972 when Flannery was quarterback and a computer error kept them out of the playoffs; in
1997 under then-head coach Terry Snively; and in 2008 when the Flannery-coached Pilots reached the regional championship game before falling to Malvern.
The playoff berth is River’s ninth all-time and Flannery has coached six of those. It’s also the first No. 1 seed in the region since 2008.
With the win, the Pilots also captured their fifth OVAC Class 2A.
Isaly converted 6-8 passes and two touchdowns for 193 yards, while adding 11 yards and a score on his only carry of the night. Whetsell added 60 yards rushing and a touchdown, while Drew Wagnild accumulated 53 yards rushing on only three carries, and tacked on 41 yards on one pass reception. VanCamp added 84 yards receiving and scored a TD on two catches, while Dietz caught three passes for 68 yards and one touchdown.
In addition, Hunter Dennis tacked on 34 yards, while Matusik grounded out 12 yards on for carries and a touchdown. Saska tallied 38 yards on nine carries and a score, while Ladyga tallied a score from two yards out on his only carry.
Defensively, Wagnild and Colton Lawrence led the way with eight tackles apiece, with Wagnild adding an interception. Huntyer Dennis made seven tackles, while nSaska dropped six. Kane McCloud, Heath Rosen Dakota Smith and Matusik each made five tackles, with Matusic and McCloud each making three tackles for loss of yardage, and Smith an interception along with Whetsell.
The River Pilots will host the Ohio Division VI Region 23 first round match-up with Bishop Ready at 7:30 p.m.
Bruce Crawford contributed to this story.