NEW PORT RICHEY — For a program in its infancy, Fivay played like an experienced bunch Friday night.
The Falcons’ back-and-forth game against River Ridge came down to three plays of 1 yard each. And Fivay made all three of them to come away with a season-opening 35-28 win in a showdown of the North Suncoast’s breakout teams from a year ago.
“Fivay’s coming for it,” Falcons running back Davion Sutton said.
The Falcons avenged last year’s 17-14 loss to the Royal Knights in the closing minutes to begin Fivay’s first varsity season. They also spoiled a special night for River Ridge coach Ryan Benjamin, a former lineman for USF and the Bucs, who was inducted into his alma mater’s hall of honor before the game.
In the opening minutes, Fivay (1-0) didn’t look like a team that advanced to the playoffs last year. Senior George Cordova intercepted Tyler Degen’s second pass and raced 60 yards to put River Ridge (0-1) ahead.
“We keep giving pick-sixes like Christmas presents,” Fivay coach Chris Taylor said.
Degen, playing in place of starter Eric Vitale (broken hand) answered with a 35-yard touchdown strike to Andrew Meyer on his next pass to tie the game. Meyer injured his shoulder later in the half and did not return.
River Ridge hung around by taking advantage of Fivay miscues. The Falcons botched a punt attempt late in the first quarter, setting up a 48-yard touchdown pass from Josh Maisel to Cordova.
Maisel took advantage of blown coverage late in the first half, lofting a 30-yard touchdown pass to Cordova on fourth and long that tied the game at 21.
Fivay struck first in the second half with a lucky break. Cordova deflected Degen’s pass— right into the arms of senior Willis Reeves, who raced into the end zone for a 40-yard score.
Maisel tied the score with a 7-yard rush, and Fivay seemed ready to let it slip away after the Royal Knights recovered Sutton’s fumble at the Falcons’ 28 in the fourth quarter.
That’s when Fivay made the first of its three big plays. On fourth and inches from the 6, the Falcons stripped the ball from Maisel. It tumbled out of the end zone, saving a score and giving Fivay the possession.
“They’ve been in situations like this before,” Taylor said. “They’ve been in situations where they need to make a play to win a game.”
They took advantage of two costly River Ridge penalties and a diving 31-yard catch from Kevin Faulkner to set up the second key play — the go-ahead, 1-yard TD rush from Sutton with 3:10 left.
“It was crazy,” said Sutton, who finished with 111 rushing yards and added a 15-yard TD in the second quarter.
But the Royal Knights had one more chance. They drove 44 yards to the Fivay 21 with a minute left. Facing fourth and inches, Maisel rushed right, but junior LB Christian Breviario tripped him up in the backfield.
Maisel finished inches short of a first down, and Fivay finished with a statement victory.
Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.