Rams coach Josh Smithers believes his seniors helped save the season
The Riverview High football season came to a halt at the Class 8A state semifinal game on Nov. 30 in Jacksonville, in large part because of the arm of a talented Mandarin High quarterback.
Carson Beck, a junior, threw daggers through the Rams’ secondary all night, and the Mustangs’ speedy receiving corps was there to catch them. Beck, who is verbally committed to Alabama, finished the game with 470 passing yards and four touchdowns. The Rams' offense put up a fight, but untimely turnovers put Riverview in a hole from which it could not escape. Mandarin won 45-31.
Rams senior running back Ali Boyce finished his career with a 149-yard, three touchdown performance. Junior quarterback Sean White also found junior wideout Malachi Wideman for a touchdown.
It’s a disappointing end for the Rams (11-4), but remembering how they got here helps. Riverview started the season 1-2 after consecutive losses to Venice High and Palmetto High, and rebounded to 2-2 after a tight 14-7 win against Steinbrenner High, which missed the playoffs with a 6-5 finish. There was a stretch where Riverview coach Josh Smithers worried his team might miss them, too, he said. A 51-45 loss to Newsome High (4-6) on Oct. 5 only exasperated those worries.
But during the second half of the Newsome loss, Smithers said, he saw a spark in his football team, as if it finally understood what was at stake and how it needed to play. The loss required the Rams to beat Manatee High and Riverview (Hillsborough) High to win the district and sneak into the playoffs.
The Rams did just that, and added a 42-6 win over Sarasota High in the regular season finale as an exclamation point. In the playoffs, all Riverview did was make history, reaching the state semifinals for the first time since 2004.
Smithers will not soon forget the resiliency of his team, especially his senior leaders.
“Three years ago, when we won our first district title (of three in a row), those seniors got us back on the map,” Smithers said. “But the current seniors have been part of it the whole time. We knew they were going to be a special group when they were freshmen.
“It is a quiet group of seniors, even-keeled. No moment was too big or too small for them. That got us through our tough times this season. They never panicked or blamed each other. They just practiced their butts off, and the rest of the team adopted that same mentality.”
Unfortunately for Riverview, those seniors — including Boyce, who surpassed the career 5,000-yard rushing mark this season — will be gone in 2019. But returning will be White and Wideman, plus dynamic running back Michael “Poodah” Hayes and defensive back Charles Brantley, both of whom will be juniors, and defensive lineman Jayden Cray, who will be a senior.
There’s still a window for Riverview to do great things, and the Rams are not wasting any time. Smithers said discussions about next season began on the bus ride home from Jacksonville. But the feeling of this season will linger in Smithers’ mind a while yet.
“We did something we had not done since 2004,” Smithers said. “It is a great feeling when the kids do things people do not think we can do. They mean the world to me. I’m so proud of them.”