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ROYAL KNIGHTS HOPING TO GET A GRIP, RIGHT SHIP

Too many turnovers have been the glaring problem in River Ridge's 0-2 start.

Momentum was squarely on River Ridge's side midway through the fourth quarter last week against Gulf.

First, it scored a touchdown to pull within seven.

Then the Royal Knights recovered an onside kick at the Gulf 46 with 6:49 left.

"We were right there," River Ridge coach Tim Stevens said.

Not for long.

After River Ridge took over, disaster struck.

A first-down pitch from quarterback Kenny Toce was bobbled by normally dependable running back Stavros Arianas, caught in midair by Gulf defensive lineman Friday Karr and returned 50 yards for a touchdown.

Game over.

"What do you say when something like that happens?" Stevens said.

For River Ridge, that one play, a fluke play at that, sums things up after two games. The Royal Knights are 0-2 after losses to Mitchell (31-13) and Gulf (43-22), but feel as if they could be 2-0, or at the least 1-1.

"We've been snake bit," Stevens said.

By snake bit, what he really means is turnover-plagued.

The Royal Knights, who host Anclote on Friday, have coughed it up eight times, negating the fact the offense is moving the ball reasonably well and averaging about 300 yards per game.

"The kids are playing hard," Stevens said. "But we have to shore things up."

The latest loss wasn't easy to stomach. When River Ridge trailed Gulf 14-0 midway through the first quarter it looked as if the rout was on. But behind Toce, Arianas and a defense that appears to be improving after a rough opening week, the Royal Knights fought their way back.

And with a little luck, they just might have pulled it off.

But to this group, coming close isn't enough.

After struggling greatly during Stevens' first two-and-a-half seasons, River Ridge ended the 2008 season by winning three of four.

"Obviously, we're very disappointed right now," said Toce, who passed for 116 yards last week. "Our mood is definitely down. We could easily be 2-0, so we're trying to keep our hopes high."

Despite the record, there are positives.

The effort and enthusiasm have been terrific, Stevens said. And there's one other thing to remember: River Ridge won't play its first district game until next week. In other words, that 0-2 might as well be 0-0.

"They're going to give people some problems," Gulf coach Jay Fulmer said.

Keith Niebuhr can be reached at kniebuhr@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4156.

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