MILLVILLE — It was supposed to be a showdown of unbeaten teams on a special night for television.
It became a one-sided affair pretty quick in the Region 11 football opener, which was broadcast by KJZZ Thursday evening. Ridgeline had no problem staying perfect on the season, while Green Canyon did manage to score in the final minute of the contest.
The Riverhawks scored on their first five possessions of the game, never punted and caused havoc all night long for the Wolves. For the fourth straight game this season, Ridgeline broke the 40-point mark and for the fifth time this year won by double digits, 42-6.
“Both sides of the ball, this was the best game we have played to date,” Riverhawk head coach Travis Cox said. “I’m really proud of how the kids stayed focused and didn’t let the moment get to them. They just played their game.”
Ridgeline (5-0, 1-0 region) finished with 433 yards of total offense — 276 passing and 157 rushing. The Riverhawks had 26 first downs for the game. Green Canyon (4-1, 0-1) was limited to 115 yards of total offense and finished with seven first downs.
“We played a little better in the second half,” Wolves head coach Craig Anhder said. “I’m proud of my boys. They sure fought hard. There was never a lack of effort.”
Ridgeline came into the game winning by an average of 26.8 points. The Riverhawks exited with a winning margin of 28.6.
“We knew they were a good team and we would have to play really well,” Anhder said. “I thought we came out wanting play well, but they (Riverhawks) came out to play. They are a good team.”
The Wolves had been able to finish tight games, having won by no more than four points in their first four victories. In fact, their winning margin was 2.5 coming in. Green Canyon could never get anything going on offense.
“This group doesn’t get too high or too low,” Cox said. “They just execute and make plays. It was fun to watch.”
The Riverhawks on the other hand marched up and down the field. Quarterback Kaden Cox threw for all 276 yards, completing 25 of 32 attempts and tossing four touchdowns. Jackson Olsen caught six passes for 37 yards and a TD, while Strat Simmons and Will Booth each hauled in five passes for 82 and 41 yards, respectively. Simmons had a TD catch and Booth had two.
“When we have a quarterback like Kaden, anything is possible,” said Booth, who filled in for a teammate who was out on the offensive side. “We have receivers like Strat and Jackson and Peyton and Braylon (Majors), so we just have a great receiving corps and a heck of a line. We have the right pieces.”
“Defenses have to pick their poison with us,” Kaden Cox said. “We can run it really good and throw it good too.”
Noah White rushed for 115 yards and a score on 19 carries to lead the Ridgeline ground attack. Olsen had 29 yards on two carries and a TD.
“We talked about starting fast before the game,” Kaden Cox said. “I thought we competed throughout the whole game. Our line played really good tonight; our whole team played good tonight. It’s a good win for us.”
Quarterback Jack Stephens passed for 75 yards on 6 of 9 attempts for the Wolves, but was sacked seven times. He finished with 14 yards on the ground on 20 carries. Gavin Christiansen rushed for 26 yards on eight carries.
“When the offense is not moving the ball and getting first downs, it’s really hard on your defense,” Anhder said. “Our defense was battling hard, but they had not run into a team that good this season. It was a great learning experience for us, and it is early on in region. We can take this and get better.”
After a respectful National Anthem and remembering those lost on 9/11, Ridgeline honored two athletes who have been battling cancer. The Riverhawks have the initials “KD” on their helmet this season for Keenan Hill and Dawson Low.
Then it was time to play. Green Canyon took the opening kickoff and picked up a first down on third-and-5, but then it went south for the Wolves. Luke Jacobsen recorded the first sack of the game for the Riverhawks, and Green Canyon punted.
It took the Riverhawks 10 plays to cover 70 yards. On third-and-5 from the 21, Olsen took a handoff from White on a reverse and scampered to paydirt with 5:21 minutes left in the opening quarter.
Booth had a sack on the next Green Canyon possession, and Simmons had a big punt return to near midfield. Ridgeline then proceeded to convert three third-down plays on its way to another TD. Kaden Cox found Olsen for a 3-yard scoring throw and a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“The key to this game was to score early,” coach Cox said. “We knew they (Wolves) had a good defense. We really wanted to establish ourselves on offense.”
A 32-yard pass from Kaden Cox to Peyton Knowles highlighted the third Ridgeline possession. That is until White scored from 20 yards out on a third-and-4 play where he started inside, cut out, then was off to the races and reached the end zone.
Owen Munk recovered a Green Canyon fumble when it was looking like the Wolves might be putting a drive together. The Riverhawks then proceeded to drive 77 yards in eight plays just before halftime. Kaden Cox scrambled under some pressure and found Booth in the back of the end zone from eight yards out.
Ridgeline took a 28-0 lead into the break and received the kickoff to start the second half. The Riverhawks went 85 yards in 13 plays, converting two fourth-down plays, including the 21-yard scoring toss from Kaden Cox to Booth on fourth-and-18. The score gave the hosts a 35-0 lead.
Facing a fourth-and-10 from the Wolves 32, the Riverhawks didn’t convert and for the first time in the game didn’t score on a possession. That came on the final play of the third quarter.
However, on their first possession of the fourth quarter, the Riverhawks struck quickly. Simmons hauled in a short pass, spun away from a defender and was gone for a 39-yard TD. Ridgeline took a 42-0 lead with the extra point by Aaron Young with 9:47 to play.
“We wanted to start region the right way,” Kaden Cox said. “Valley region games are a lot of fun. We wanted to come out with a bang and show people who we are. ... Everything was just clicking for us tonight.”
The final Ridgeline possession ended with a fumble in the closing minutes of the game. Green Canyon’s Tate White stripped the ball and returned the pigskin to the Riverhawk 21. Kaden Cox saved the touchdown with a tackle.
“That is very rare,” Kaden Cox said of his tackle. “I had to prevent him from scoring.”
Stephens completed an 18-yard pass to Boston Stewart and then scored from three yards out with 51 ticks on the clock to break up the shutout.
“I’m so proud of how the defense played and executed,” coach Cox said. “That’s the best we have played all year.”
Cordell Coats led the Wolves defense with eight tackles, while Aiden Merrill made seven stops.
For Ridgeline’s D, Jaxen Hollingsworth made seven tackles, including two sacks. Booth and Tanner Paskett had six tackles each and recorded sacks. Bridger Hammond was in on two sacks.
“Every game is a business day,” Booth said. “Practice is where we win games. We practice how we play.”
The win gives Ridgeline a 3-2 advantage in the series between the newest schools in the valley.