The Rams did it with a win against Dr. Phillips, who knocked them out of the playoffs in 2017 and 2016
On Nov. 24, 2017, the Riverview High football team lost 28-19 in the regional finals to Dr. Phillips High at the Ram Bowl.
It was the second season in a row the Rams lost to the Panthers to end the season, and it was filled with missed opportunities on offense. The Panthers jumped on the Rams early and it was too much for Riverview to overcome. The Panthers went on to win the Class 8A state title.
On Nov. 24, 2018, the Rams (10-3) finally got revenge, hammering the Panthers (7-6) 33-7 and advancing to the state semifinals for the first time since 2004.
“It feels awesome,” Rams coach Josh Smithers said before pausing. “It feels awesome, man. To get knocked out two years in a row and then be able to get another shot at them, and beat them … This is our seniors' last game at the Ram Bowl. They are going out on top. It’s just a great night all around.”
Riverview will travel to Jacksonville on Friday to play the Mandarin High Mustangs (9-4) at 7:30 p.m. Mandarin beat Wekiva High (10-2), the top-ranked team in Class 8A per MaxPreps, 19-7 to advance to the state semifinals.
At first, the game seemed like it might be a repeat of last season. Dr. Phillips scored on its first possession, draining almost half of the first quarter while doing so, and Riverview punted on its first chance. But things quickly changed when Riverview defensive back Amari Pitts intercepted a Panthers pass and scampered to the end zone to tie the game.
The Rams' defense wasn't done creating turnovers. Sophomore linebacker Daevon Lebron added an interception in the second quarter, which led to a field goal from junior kicker Dorian Hall. (Hall made all four of his attempted field goals on the night.) Sophomore Chuck Brantley had an interception in the third quarter, and a few plays later senior running back Ali Boyce pounded a touchdown in from 18 yards. Sophomore defensive lineman Sincere Littles recovered a fumble deep in Panthers territory late in the fourth quarter, leading to Boyce's second touchdown run. He gave a wave to the Panthers as he jogged to the sideline.
“It was an emotional game,” Boyce said. “They were talking a lot of trash. I got a little bit in my own head. I had to do it. (Laughs.)”
Boyce finished with 136 rushing yards.
Smithers said he was proud of the way his defense executed, and that building the lead off Hall's field goals forced Dr. Phillips to play an offensive style the Panthers were not comfortable running, giving the Rams the advantage. Even once the Rams offense figured out its red zone frustrations in the second half, the defense remained stout.
It will have to play that way again if the Rams want to reach the state title game.
The Mustangs have plenty of weapons for the Rams to worry about, starting with junior quarterback Carson Beck, who is verbally committed to Alabama. Senior wide receiver Kris Mitchell is verbally committed to Florida International, and senior running back Terrell Jennings was verbally committed to Western Kentucky until Nov. 25 (when the school fired coach Mike Sanford). He holds an offer from South Florida among other schools.
MaxPreps has Mandarin as the third-best team in the class, and Riverview the fifth. A Rams win would technically be an upset. But the Rams have been doubted before, and they wouldn’t want it any other way now.