NEW PORT RICHEY — Led by the powerful running of Anthony Roussos, who rushed for a game-high 226 yards and three touchdowns, along with a ball-hawking defense that forced seven turnovers, River Ridge clinched the Class 5A, District 11 title with a 52-19 win over Zephyrhills.
Monday’s makeup of Friday’s postponed matchup due to a flooded field gives the host Royal Knights three district championships in the past five seasons and snapped the Bulldogs’ two-year title run. River Ridge improved to 6-2 overall and 4-0 in the district while Zephyrhills fell to 4-4 and 3-1 in 5A-11.
“Dominant, dominant victory,” River Ridge coach Ryan Benjamin told his players afterward, exclaiming, “District champs, baby!”
Zephyrhills, which defeated River Ridge each of the past two seasons, could not hang on to leads of 7-0 and 13-7. A sack of Knights quarterback Trenton Hawks by Maguire Neal and Brian Ashmore’s recovery in the end zone gave the Bulldogs the early lead. The Bulldogs then broke a tie at 7 on T.J. Jackson’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Zyre Roundtree.
River Ridge then pulled away on three straight touchdowns for a 28-13 lead in the third quarter. Following Zephyrhills’ last lead at 13-7, River Ridge outscored its district rival by a substantial 45-6 margin.
“I think we got some momentum and once we got that, we had to keep it,” said Benjamin, a 1996 River Ridge graduate who earned a Super Bowl ring as a long snapper for the champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002.
Roussos, whose yardage came on 21 carries, had scoring runs of 65, 50 and 11 yards. Two of his touchdown runs came early and the third gave the Knights an insurmountable 35-19 lead.
“Roussos is a heckuva football player,” said Nick Carroll, who has coached the Bulldogs to three of their five straight playoff appearances. “One player couldn’t take him down.”
Jackson was intercepted four times, twice each by Cole Castro and Travis Hawks. Hawks’ first pick was returned 21 yards into the end zone. Jackson completed 14 of 29 for 118 yards.
Trenton Hawks passed for just 83 yards, but two of those went for touchdowns. He completed scoring passes of 42 and 20 yards to Castro and Connor Finer, respectively.
The Knights also got an 18-yard touchdown run from Ben Smith and 23-yard field goal by Matthew Harkness.