After a 31-28 win over Lehigh High on Sept. 16, Riverview has a chance to make noise in 2022, even after a slow start.
Nothing about the 2022 season has been easy for the Riverview High football team.
Not even its first victory.
Rams coach Josh Smithers rested his hands on his knees Sept. 16 after talking to his team following a 31-28 home win over Lehigh (1-3), letting some of his stress go.
"That was rough," Smithers said. "But this was a huge win. We lost to two good teams the first two weeks and then had a heartbreaker last week (a double-overtime loss to Palmetto). This win is a testament to our seniors. We came back to work this week and did not waver. They all had each other's backs. We got this win, and that's what we needed."
Smithers' stress came from more than the close score. The Rams (1-3) took a 21-0 lead on the Lightning before letting Lehigh back into the game via fumbles and interceptions. In other words, the Rams almost beat themselves. But 'almost' doesn't count for win-loss records, so the Rams will celebrate the victory like they would any other. Most years, the team would have more than one of them by now, but its 2022 slate began with tough road games against Sanford Seminole High (4-0) and Gainesville Buchholz High (3-0). Then the Rams dropped a heartbreaker against Palmetto (2-2), 17-14, in double overtime, in part because senior kicker Stone Springman was not available.
Springman, who is rated 4.5 stars on Kornblue Kicking, is one of the top kickers in the Class of 2023. He missed the first three games of the season recovering from a vertebrae injury he suffered during the offseason. His first field goal attempt of the season came against Lehigh, a 48-yard kick in a light but steady rain to give his team a three-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Springman nailed the kick, dead center.
Smithers said he had no qualms about sending Springman out in such a situation, even coming off an injury.
"Stone had that look in his eyes," Smithers said. "He was excited to be back. I don't think there was anything that was going to stop him."
Springman's right leg is a weapon the Rams will have the rest of the season, which still means a lot. Even though the team is 1-3, the Rams have plenty for which to play. The Rams are in a three-team district with Venice High (1-2) and Sarasota High (3-1). The winner of the district gets an automatic playoff bid. Games against those teams hold extra meaning. If a team can with both district matchups, it's in good shape.
For the Rams, the first of those matchups will come Sept. 30 against Venice following an off week.
Venice, too, has played a tough schedule in its opening weeks, dropping a 32-26 game to Miami Northwestern High, a perennial state contender, and a 34-17 game to Baltimore's St. Frances Academy, a nationally ranked program. It also eked past Naples High (3-1) 12-11. In a sarcastic tone, Smithers said his team would try to stay within 50 points of Venice in their game, a reference to his team's blowout loss to Venice in last year's playoffs. Because each team has played a difficult schedule, it's hard to get a read on each program's strengths and weaknesses.
Against Lehigh, the Rams' offensive strength was its rushing attack. Senior running back Lauriel "Scoota" Trotman, who transferred from Sarasota High, gained 118 yards on 28 carries and scored a touchdown. But its real strength was its defense, which held Lehigh senior running back Richard Young, an Alabama commit, to 14 carries and 59 yards — 33 of which came on one play. The Rams also intercepted Lehigh senior quarterback Darryl Hodge Jr. four times.
One interception was by junior Charles Lester III, the Rams' all-world recruit, who showed off his talent by sprinting to a Lehigh deep ball thrown well over his head and catching it over his shoulder and in front of the intended receiver, who had no idea a defender was in the area. The catch prompted the Rams' crowd and sideline to erupt in applause.
On offense, Lester — who also plays wide receiver — was double-teamed most of the game against Lehigh but was able to make a handful of plays down the stretch. He finished with six catches for 53 yards.
Lester will need to be at his best again when playing Venice, which has relied heavily on its passing game in 2022. Indians senior quarterback Brooks Bentley has thrown for 391 yards and four touchdowns through four games.
Join the Neighborhood! Our 100% local content helps strengthen our communities by delivering news and information that is relevant to our readers. Support independent local journalism by joining the Observer's new membership program — The Newsies — a group of like-minded community citizens, like you. Be a Newsie.