River Bluff’s football team earned a pair of firsts Thursday night.
The Gators clinched their first home playoff game with a 35-21 win over Lexington. It is River Bluff’s first win in five tries over its county rival and continues one of the biggest turnarounds in the Midlands this year.
After going 2-8 in Blair Hardin’s first year last season, the Gators (8-1) tied a school record for victories going into next week’s season finale against Irmo.
“Our phrase this year at school is ‘Breakthrough’ and our kids have bought in,” Hardin said. “I’m happy for these guys. It has been a long time for our community and we were hungry for this.
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“I’m excited for our seniors that we get a home playoff game and get to experience it, because we never have.”
River Bluff running back Braden Walker rushed for 179 yards and two touchdowns before leaving the game late in the fourth quarter with an apparent ankle injury.
The Gators’ top back put River Bluff up 28-14 with 9:49 left in the third quarter after Lexington scored in less than a minute on its first possession of the third to cut the margin with a score.
The Gators made it 35-14 less than two seconds later after capitalizing on a Lexington turnover. Braden Rivers picked off Cal Herndon and returned it to the Lexington 36.
One play, later Michael Rikard hit Cleburne Gray on a 36-yard pass to make it 35-14. Rikard completed all eight of his passes for 108 yards.
Lexington’s Akeem Nicholas had a late TD for the Wildcats. The senior rushed for 259 yards and went over the 1,000-yard mark of the season.
Lexington finishes third in Region 5-5A and will open the playoffs on the road in two weeks.
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. Blair Hardin is a winner. The River Bluff coach has won everywhere he has been, and his work at River Bluff has the makings of something special for years to come.
2. Braden Walker’s health is going to be key. Walker’s ankle got rolled on later in the fourth quarter and the Gators need him to be healthy for a deep run in playoffs.
3. River Bluff’s defense came up big. The Gators gave up a lot of yards on the ground but forced two turnovers and did a good in harassing Herndon most of the night.
HOW THEY SCORED
RB – Rikard 1 run (Hallman kick), 9:52
RB – Gantt 1 run (Hallman kick), 7:13
RB – Walker 7 run (Hallman kick), 9:49
LEX – Crouch 15 pass from Herndon (Gettys kick), 1:33
LEX – Herndon 7 run (Gettys kick), 7:11
RB – Walker 9 run (Hallman kick), 8:32
RB – Grey 36 pass from Rikard (Hallman kick), 7:12
LEX – Nicholas 23 run (Gettys kick), 3:28
Rushing: RB: Walker 23-179, Gantt 14-90, Gray 1-10, Rikard 4-7. L: Nicholas 26-259, Herndon 18-73, Hiller 1-6.
Passing: RB: Rikard 4-4-0 108, Walker 0-4. L: Herndon 13-28-1 108
Receiving: RB: Spencer 1-42, Gray 1-36, Trottier 1-25, Wise 1-5. L: Crouch 5-67, E. Herndon 3-23, Baxley 3-11, Nicholas 2-7