Big River Rivalry Debut A Success
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Dec 24, 2013, 09:13
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
ASHLAND — Last weekend, 93 high school football players pulled over their shoulder pads and strapped their chin straps for the last time in the 2013 season for the inaugural Big River Rivalry.
The Big River Rivalry, organized by the The Touchdown Club of Richmond, divided high schools across the Richmond area by their geographical location — North or South of the James River. The players chosen to participate were among the best at their position in Richmond, culminating in a type of All-Star game.
Each squad — Team North and Team South — practiced together for a full week leading up to the match-up, learning different offensive packages and defenses designed to utilize their talents.
And with 2,929 spectators in attendance, the inaugural Big River Rivalry came down to a field goal attempt with 10 seconds remaining. Midlothian's Jay Klein lined up for the game-winning attempt, but John Marshall's Cedric Bridges blocked the kick, clinching the 35-34 win for Team North.
Even after the game, players for Team South said while they were disappointed in the result, the atmosphere around the event made for an incredible experience.
"It was a huge honor," Hopewell's Tyler Smith said after the game. "To be on the first team and being able to play in this game, it was great. There are ton of great players around here."
And it was the players who were the clear winners during a day designed just for them.
It's an event put in place to reward those players who excelled on the field throughout the season and were integral pieces to their team's respective successes. It also allowed the players to suit up one last time with many of them having just completed their senior seasons.
However, Manchester's Justin Duhart reveled in the ability to play with some of the players he dreaded playing against during the regular season.
"They're some of the best players we've played all season and here they are on my team," Duhart said after the loss. "North had excellent athletes and we had excellent athletes. It was a good battle."
Because beyond the hype of having an All-Star type of team, there was a game to be played. For most players, it was a chance to work with different coaches for the first time in their high school careers, learning different plays and expanding their skill set.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
Tabyus Taylor earned the start for Team South, but with Team North stacking the box, head coach Billy Mills went to a pass-heavy attack, an aspect he had not mastered during the season. At Hopewell, Taylor would run the ball the majority of the time, but in Mills' system, Taylor completed 9-of-16 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns.
Taylor's tosses were some of the most impressive he had all season, showcasing another benefit of hosting this kind of event.
"They packed the box a lot, sometimes eight in the box, so we had to go to the passing game," Taylor said. "I like throwing the ball. I like to get my team involved, so throwing the ball is something I tried to focus on more."
While the players each exhibited their gratitude for being invited to play in the Big River Rivalry, even the coaches on each side were excited to be a part of it. One needed to just take one glance across the field to see all the coaches eager to devise a winning game-plan.
Then, take a look around the field at Randolph-Macon College and it was easy to see how much of a success the day was. Fans for Team North remained vocal throughout the game, clamoring for a defensive stop or an offensive first down.
If one did not know any better, it had the feel of a playoff game with the intensity shown by the fans and players on the field.
"It was great," Team South head coach Billy Mills said about the atmosphere. "It was a challenge too because you have so many good athletes over here that you want to get in. But to have them all mesh together after one week was great. The fans, too."
For an event no one was sure would be a success, Saturday's one-point game brought excitement to the field, sidelines and stands, showing why it should continue to be played after every season.