MILLVILLE — After a somewhat lackluster outing in the first round of the 4A state football playoffs, the Riverhawks were clicking on both sides of the ball Friday night in the quarterfinals.
Ridgeline got its offense going, and the defense came through once again with some big turnovers. The defending state champions Riverhawks are headed to the semifinals after a 41-20 victory against Snow Canyon.
“We worked hard this past week,” Ridgeline head coach Travis Cox said. “We stuck with our guys and everyone came together and executed very well. I was really happy to see them score some points and have some fun. Now is the best time to be going, and we are rolling right now.”
The Riverhawk defense came up with four turnovers, while their offensive brothers did not lose the ball. The three fumble recoveries and interception were turned into 20 points by the offense — two touchdowns and two field goals.
“The last couple of weeks we have been working like a well-oiled machine,” Ridgeline defensive lineman Tanner Paskett said of the defense. “We have been practicing super hard. We’ve been super locked in at practice. I love every kid on my team. They are all just good kids, do their part and I trust them.”
The fouth-seeded Riverhawks (8-4) never trailed in the game and beat the fifth-seeded Warriors (7-4) for the third time in the last two years. The teams earlier this season with Ridgeline winning in St. George, 24-8, and they also met last year with the Riverhawks soaring to a 42-7 victory.
“We had these guys figured out since last season,” Ridgeline receiver Jackson Olsen said. “We beat them in St. George in week three, so we knew what to expect. We knew what they were going to do.”
On offense, the Riverhawks were balanced in gaining 372 yards of total offense. Nate Dahle completed 15 of 23 pass attempts for 210 yards and a touchdown. The signal caller rushed for 35 yards on eight carries and scored three times with his feet.
“We had some good game planning,” said Olsen, who caught nine passes for 138 yards. “... I feel a lot better out there. Next week will be even better. ... Nate is an incredible leader for how young he is. He is poised and makes the right reads.”
Ridgeline finished with 162 yards on the ground on 44 carries. JT White led the rushing attack with 73 yards on 14 carries and a score. Will Rippstein rushed for 48 yards on 17 carries.
Snow Canyon finished with 217 yards of total offense, with 167 of those coming through the air. Warrior quarterback Hunter Johnson passed for 167 yards on 18 of 27 attempts with an interception and led the team in rushing with 34 yards on 12 carries. Running back Teagan Hugh scored two TDs on the ground and led the team in receiving with nine catches for 77 yards.
Defensively, Ridgeline’s Cooper Clark and Max Baer each had six tackles.
“It was super awesome that the defense could get those takeaways, and the offense then made something of them,” Paskett said.
The game began with several big momentum swings. Will Warner took the opening kickoff and returned it 90 yards for an apparent Warrior TD. However, a flag was thrown on the return, and it came back.
On the first play from scrimmage for Snow Canyon, Johnson bobbled a snap that turned into a fumble. Ridgeline’s Owen Munk recovered at the Warrior 12-yard line.
Three plays later White was scoring off left tackle from a yard out, giving the hosts a 7-0 lead.
“They (Warriors) were rolling coming into this thing,” Cox said. “We thought if we could jump on them early, we could take that momentum.”
Warner did himself even better on the next return opportunity. He took the ensuing kickoff and went 93 yards to paydirt. Less than two minutes into the contest, it was 7-7.
Ridgeline converted three third downs, including a third-and-16, in marching 80 yards in 13 plays. Dahle found wide receiver Hunter Knighton all alone for a 19-yard TD strike.
The Riverhawks ended the opening quarter with Noah Kekauoha nearly intercepting a pass, then breaking up a pass. White made a solid tackle when the Warriors went for it on fourth down on their own 33.
Dahle hooked up with Olsen for a 40-yard gain on third-and-6, then scored his first rushing TD of the night from two yards out to give the Riverhawks a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter.
Paskett then forced and recovered a fumble.
“I don’t even know what happened,” Paskett said. “I was getting off the block and some spin-around thing and I’m on my butt with the ball in my hands. I was then, offense, go get it done.”
The offense drove 46 yards in six plays. Dahle scored a from a yard out as Ridgeline took a 28-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
Hugh scored his first TD from four yards out to pull the Warriors within 28-14 at halftime.
The Riverhawks began the second half by getting the ball and driving 81 yards in 12 plays to paydirt. Dahle scored from a yard out on a fourth-and-goal play to give the hosts a 35-14 lead.
“You don’t want to run your quarterback a whole lot, but at this point in the season you kind of empty it (playbook) all out,” Cox said. “We wanted to get him running a little more. That helped things early on.”
Kekauoha came up with a fumble on the next Warrior offensive play. Aaron Young would cash in on that turnover with a 27-yard field goal.
A short kickoff and two penalties of the 15-yard variety on Ridgeline helped give Snow Canyon great field position. The Warriors only had to go 28 yards and did so in seven plays with Hugh scoring from a yard out.
Ridgeline took a 38-20 lead into the final quarter as both teams traded punts.
Munk picked off a pass and returned it 25 yards to the Snow Canyon 15 to set up the final points of the game. Young booted a 25-yard field goal with 5:06 to play.
Baer and Paskett teamed up for a sack to help thwart the last Warrior possession.
“The defense was really, really good tonight,” Cox said. “Other than one drive, they played lights out. Turnovers are the name of the game. They create turnovers because of effort. Tanner Paskett played so hard tonight.”
Ridgeline has never lost a home playoff game (8-0). The Riverhawks will now play next Saturday at Southern Utah University in Cedar City. They will face Crimson Cliffs, who beat Cedar 33-14, with a berth to the state championship game on the line.
“I have full faith in my team,” Paskett said. “I think we will go practice hard and get it done.”
RIVERHAWKS 41, WARRIORS 20
Friday at Millville
Snow Canyon 7 7 6 0 — 20
Ridgeline 14 14 10 3 — 41
R — JT White 1 run (Aaron Young kick), 10:23
SC — Will Warner 93 kickoff return (Corbin Christian kick), 10:10
R — Hunter Knighton 19 pass from Nate Dahle (Young kick), 4:25
R — Dahle 2 run (Young kick), 10:45
R — Dahle 1 run (Young kick), 7:34
SC — Teagan Hugh 4 run (Christian kick), 4:01
R — Dahle 1 run (Young kick), 6:20
R — FG 27 Young, 4:34
SC — Hugh 1 run (pass failed), 1:23
R — FG 25 Young, 5:10