Riverside Academy managed to score 17 points in the first half against a Notre Dame team that had allowed more than a single touchdown in only one game all year, but in the end, the Rebels’ defense was unable to get off the field against the Pioneers’ stiff defense and powerful rushing attack.
It all added up to a 41-31 loss for the Rebels that eliminated the defending Division III champions from the playoffs with the semifinal defeat Friday in Crowley.
The Rebels, the No. 5 seed, saw their season end at 5-5. Top-seeded Notre Dame (11-0) advances to the state championship game in two weeks against Catholic of New Iberia. Catholic, the No. 3 seed, beat No. 2 seed Newman 49-7.
Riverside led by 11 points at 23-14 when quarterback Jordan Loving tossed a 76-yard touchdown pass to Kash Foley less than a minute into the second half.
From that point on, Notre Dame’s defense came up with numerous stops while the Riverside defense as unable to get off the field as the Pioneers’ running game took over.
“We played a pretty good first half in terms of the score but I thought we left a lot of opportunities out there so I was pretty optimistic at the start of the second half,” Riverside coach Chris Lachney said. “I thought we had a chance to pull away a little bit.
“Hats off to (the Pioneers); their offense took it to our defense. We just couldn’t get off the field. We just couldn’t stop them. They were just running the football and really taking it to our defense.”
Notre Dame rushed for 373 yards in the game, 215 coming in the second half. Collin Kirsh ran for 178 yards and Waylon Bourgeois 127.
The Pioneers scored on four-straight possessions in the second half, three culminating in short touchdown runs by Bourgeois.
A 1-yard pass from Loving to Jeremiah Bigham with a minute remaining in the third quarter put Riverside back on top 31-27 lead but it would prove to be the final points for the Rebels.
Bourgeois’ final touchdown run made it 34-31. A 1-yard quarterback sneak by Garrett Bergeron with less than five minutes left in the game accounted for the final margin.
While the Pioneers were getting it down on the ground, the Rebels were having a big night through the air.
Loving finished 25 of 36 passing for 367 yards and four touchdowns and one interception. Bigham hauled in six passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns while Foley finished with five receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns.
“My hat is off to our quarterback, our wideouts and our offensive line for scoring 31 points on a team that hadn’t given up more than a touchdown (per game) all year, except for one game. I thought we played good enough offensively to win,” Lachney said.
A 32-yard touchdown run by Kirsh on the game’s opening possession gave Notre Dame a quick 7-0 lead.
Riverside pulled ahead on a field goal and a 17-yard pass from Loving to Foley for a 10-7 edge. A 42-yard touchdown pass to Bigham extended the Rebels’ lead to 17-7 with less than a minute left before halftime.
Notre Dame quickly cut the halftime deficit to four points on a 65-yard touchdown pass from Bergeron to Gentry Borill after the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds.
Although the season ended a game shy of another appearance in the state championship game, Lachney, concluding his first year as Riverside head coach, said the Rebels had a lot to be proud of in 2017.
“We put our best foot forward every time we went out. We dealt with all the circumstances one-by-one as they came along. We represented our program and our school in a positive manner. I don’t think we have anything to hang our heads about. Obviously, we can always wish for a better outcome but we’ve never been the type of program that gets too involved in the outcome of things. We worry about how it happens and how we represent ourselves. I think we had a lot to be proud of and thankful for this season,” the Riverside coach said.