MILLVILLE — Mountain Crest delivered a large serving of cold revenge more than a year in the making with a 6-3 overtime win over Ridgeline on the Riverhawks’ home turf in both sides Region 11 finale and Senior Night for the latter.
Last season, Ridgeline (2-7, 0-5 Region 11) stuck the Mustangs (4-5, 4-1) with a 29-28 home loss — also in overtime — in the region opener last year. Senior running back/linebacker Hunter Schroeder, who had 53 rushing yards in the prior year’s loss, said it “feels great” to be able to bask in victory after the defeat a season ago.
“That was a really hard game,” Schroeder said. “(Ridgeline) fought well, they gave everything they got. It was well worth it.”
Mustang head coach Jason Lee expected a tough game despite the Riverhawks coming into the game with zero region victories.
“We knew they were going to play us hard,” Lee said. “It didn’t matter what their record was, what our record was. It’s a rivalry game. We knew they were going to give us everything they had and they did, and luckily we came out on top.”
Fittingly as rivals, the two sides mirrored each other’s successes and failures for all of regulation, finishing the 48 minutes tied — at 0-0. Neither team managed to score despite a few good chances.
Both teams produced big-time stops on fourth downs in the first half. Ridgeline held first on a fourth-and-four on its own 40 yard-line. It was the first time the Mustangs had made it into their opponent’s territory. Schroeder set up the play with a 5-yard run, but the Riverhawks stuffed the senior back on the ensuing attempt for zero yards and a turnover on downs.
Ridgeline may have likely avoided giving up potentially game-winning points with their stop, but the Mustangs dodged a huge bullet with their stand. The Riverhawks made it all the way down to the 11-yard line with some considerable help from flags. Mountain Crest were penalized for roughing the passer and pass interference.
From the 11, RHS ran it to the 3 and had a fourth-and-two at that spot. Head coach Travis Van Leeuwen made the bold choice to go for it instead of the easy field goal try, but Jovesa Damuni gained only half of the yards needed.
Another mirroring came via penalties that cost the two sides major field position. Again, Ridgeline’s failure came first. Carter Murdock converted a huge third-and-21 by hauling a 22-yard catch for the longest play of the game. Unfortunately for RHS, the junior wideout was called for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The Mustangs again one-upped their rivals in terms of stakes. With 5:30 left to play, the Mustangs were pinned inside their own 20, but Schroeder broke free for 76 yards, taking the ball inside the RHS 15-yard line for what would have been the closest Mountain Crest had gotten to the end zone all game. However, MC was called for holding and were pushed back into its own territory once more.
“Penalties will kill you,” Lee said.
Schroeder didn’t touch the ball once in the first quarter, a break from his usual load of 30 carries per game average since September. By the end of the game, however, the senior had 27 carries, the most for him since a 41-carry day vs. Green Canyon. He also continued his streak of 100-yard games, extending it to seven with 116 on Friday.
“We’ve just been trying to divvy it up so (Schroeder)’s not carrying quite the load he has been,” Lee said. “He carried it when he needed to and we got out of him what we needed to.”
The most important carry of the game obviously occurred in overtime. Ridgeline stalled in its attempt to reach the end zone and Murdock kicked a 37-yard field goal.
Mountain Crest responded by handing the ball to Schroeder three times. On the third, he broke free once more and dove over the pylon for an 18-yard run, his longest of the game.
Even with the close nature of the game and the multiple close calls, going into overtime Schroeder said there wasn’t any doubt on his sideline.
“We had the hype, we knew we were going to win,” Schroeder said. “We started off slow. Our offense didn’t go as good as planned, but we grinded it out and we won.”
Some of that confidence likely came from previous experience in close encounters. Just three weeks prior to Friday’s game, the Mustangs ground out a tough 6-0 win over Green Canyon.
“We know we can play close games. We’ve got good defense,” Schroeder said. “We just came in and we just played. We played hard.”
Lee praised his team’s overall effort “other than a few penalties that held us up.”
“They did their jobs,” he said. “and they battled.”
Defensively, one of the top job-doers was Elijah Jackson. He tallied 13 tackles, four for a loss and a sack. Mason Baldwin also came up big with an interception on Ridgeline QB Kaden Cox in the first half. Cox finished the game 11 for 23 passing for 92 yards. Damuni led the Riverhawks in rushing with 34 yards on 15 carries.