This year's rivalry game between Riverview and Sarasota was supposed to be must-see.
Both teams entered at 4-1, and with both teams in the same district, there was more on the line besides local bragging rights. There was also a heaping of social media chatter between the two schools in the lead-up to the game.
Instead of must-see, though, it became something the 8,000ish fans in attendance have seen for a decade: A convincing Rams win. Riverview shut out Sarasota 35-0 at the Ram Bowl, establishing the Rams (5-1) as one of the elite teams on the Gulf Coast and the Sailors (4-2) as a team improving but not quite ready for the biggest stages.
The Rams' defense has been smothering in 2021. Since the team's season-opening 35-6 road loss to Seminole High on Aug. 27 — a game, coach Josh Smithers likes to note, played without the benefit of a preseason tuneup — Riverview has allowed 39 points in five games, or just over one touchdown (7.8 points) a game. Unsurprisingly, the Rams have won all five games. That includes a 27-7 road win against Lake Gibson High on Sept. 24 in which the Rams held Braves senior running back Jaylon Glover, a consensus three-star Utah commit, to 50 rushing yards and no touchdowns.
"The first few games we played some great competition, and our defense was great then," Smithers said. "So coming into the Sarasota game, we had no doubt that our defense would shut them out."
Sarasota senior quarterback Lance Trippel is having a strong season but managed to complete nine of 16 passes for 89 yards. The yardage total can in part be explained by the game's running clock, which began in the third quarter. But it's also a result of how stifling the Rams were.
Riverview gets it done at all three levels. Senior defensive lineman Eli Renick excels at pressuring quarterbacks; senior linebacker Tyre Smith leads the team with 42 tackles; sophomore defensive back Charles Lester III locks down the opposing teams' top option. At their best, the Rams don't bend. Consistently forcing three-and-outs helps the team win the field position battle, which in turn helps the team's offense.
That was exemplified in the Sarasota game. Riverview entered the game looking to sustain drives. The Rams ended up not having to sustain many at all — instead, they took advantage of the opportunities Sarasota gave them, including a bad snap on a punt that gave Riverview the ball at the Sailors' 11-yard-line. Sarasota also failed on fourth down from its own 25 in the third quarter, setting up the Rams' fifth touchdown.
The Rams have now won 10 straight against the Sailors, outscoring Sarasota 336-110 in those games.
The game was a stumble for the Sailors, who entered the game expecting to break the Rams' win streak. Sarasota coach Brody Wiseman said the Sailors made too many mistakes to compete against programs of Riverview's caliber. In addition to the bad snaps and failed fourth downs, the Sailors racked up 95 yards in penalties.
"It's a different level of football," Wiseman said. "When you play teams like that, you have got to execute and play good football. We didn't do that.
"We've still got a lot in front of us and we can keep improving as a program. Unfortunately, we're not there yet."
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.