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River Ridge’s future appears bright after playoff loss

The Royal Knights will graduate just two starters and will return the entire offensive line.
The region quarterfinals started Friday night for teams around Tampa Bay. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]
Published Nov. 9

NEW PORT RICHEY — If River Ridge was going to pull off a Class 5A, Region 3 quarterfinal victory over Port Orange Atlantic on Friday night, the Royal Knights were going to need a perfect game on both sides of the football.

River Ridge was able to drive the ball steadily downfield on its opening possession, but quarterback Trenton Hawks was picked off by Atlantic linebacker Tyler Berrong, who returned the interception for a touchdown.

That play alone helped swing momentum to the Sharks and the Royal Knights were never able to recover. Despite a valiant comeback attempt, River Ridge fell behind 28-0 en route to a 41-14 final score at the Jim Valentine Sports Complex.

“The kids are very resilient and I knew they would continue to fight back throughout the game,” River Ridge coach Ryan Benjamin said. “Some people would say one was the one that did it, but we’ve faced adversity all season long and I’ve seen them respond to situations.”

River Ridge finishes the season at 8-3 and bows out in the first round for only the second time in Ryan Benjamin’s tenure at the school. The team’s outlook is bright, however, as Hawks is only a sophomore and should have two more years as the program’s starting quarterback.

Down 7-0, River Ridge (8-3) was unable to generate anything out of its second drive, going for it on fourth and short and failing. Atlantic found the end zone again, as Aaron Manning strolled in from 22 yards for the game’s second score.

Atlantic (8-3) didn’t stop there in the first half, with running back Aaron Walton tacking on a 15-yard touchdown run to give the Sharks a commanding 22-0 lead. Almost three minutes later, the Sharks got their fourth touchdown of the half, with Manning connecting on a 45-yard score.

It looked as if River Ridge would head into intermission down 28-0, but the Royal Knights cut into the score thanks to a Hawks to Cole Castro touchdown pass.

Another River Ridge touchdown, a 1-yard scoring run from Anthony Roussos, cut the Sharks’ lead to 28-14 just before the fourth quarter. But momentum swung the other way soon after when Walton returned a kickoff 97 yards to give Atlantic a 35-14 advantage. That Sharks exclusively ran the ball in the fourth quarter to burn game clock.

“We have a very young group of kids,” Benjamin added. “It was good for some of these young players to be able to get some valuable experience as a junior or sophomore. We only graduate two starters and everyone else returns. We return our entire offensive line and that to me is huge.”

Region football semifinals

All games 7:30 p.m. next Friday.

Class 2A, Region 3

• No. 3 Seffner Christian at No. 2 Northside Christian

• No. 4 Admiral Farragut at No. 1 Cambridge Christian

Class 3A, Region 3

• No. 5 Clearwater Central Catholic at No. 1 Berkeley Prep

Class 4A, Region 3

• No. 4 Clewiston at No. 1 Lakewood

• No. 3 Tampa Catholic at No. 2 Delray Beach American Heritage

Class 5A, Region 3

• No. 8 Chamberlain at No. 4 Jesuit

Class 5A, Region 2

• No. 4 Nature Coast at No. 1 Orlando Jones

Class 6A, Region 2

• No. 5 Clearwater at No. 1 Gaither

• No. 3 Lake Minneola at No. 2 Largo

Class 7A, Region 3

• No. 3 Manatee at No. 2 Mitchell

Class 7A, Region 2

• No. 5 Bloomingdale at No. 1 Armwood

• No. 6 Tampa Bay Tech at No. 2 Lakeland

Class 8A, Region 2

• No. 4 Steinbrenner at No. 1 Sarasota Riverview


  1. Tre'von Riggins, a University of Miami commit, has been a force for the Lakewood defense since he transferred from IMG Academy. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    The “Duke Energy Boys” have helped drive an unbeaten season, not giving up a touchdown in seven games.
  2. Mitchell quarterback Ezra Brennan has already surpassed 2,000 yards passing this season. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times
    The learning curve isn’t too steep for the first-year Mustangs starter, whose unflappable nature can be traced to the other sport he excels in — baseball.
  3. Indiana wide receiver Whop Philyor of Plant High makes a move around Northwestern defensive lineman Joe Gaziano on Nov. 2  in Bloomington, Ind. Indiana won 34-3. DOUG MCSCHOOLER  |  AP
    Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota have become feel-good stories in college football this season, with coaches and players who have roots locally.
  4. Clearwater Central Catholic's Zac Elam says that one of the offensive line's strengths is that "we’re really close as a group." DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times
    While often inconspicuous, the Marauders’ offensive line knows its value this season.
  5. Nature Coast's Dedric Hall does a little bit of everything for the Sharks, which is why they're in the second round of the playoffs. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    The junior can burn you in the running game. He’s nifty in the passing game. And if you’re not careful, he’ll pick off your quarterback, too.
  6. Admiral Farragut's Martel Mott takes off after intercepting a pass by Cambridge Christian's Titan Williamson during the teams' Sept. 13 regular-season matchup. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    One thing is certain in the playoffs under the new format: rematches from the regular season.
  7. Not only is Riverview's Alyssa Hendrix a two-times state champ in cross country, but her latest title follows two earlier this year in state track. Hendrix, pictured here from the spring, won the 3,200- and 1,600-meter titles in May. SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times
    The final tally: Two individual champs, three team champs and a host of individual medalists.
  8. Clearwater Central Catholic’s Jordan Niles, right, hugs Calvary Christian’s Richie Ilarraza after the Marauders’ playoff win. Niles is a former Calvary player. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Sunday Morning QB: Clearwater Central Catholic, Steinbrenner and Chamberlain are just a few of the standouts in the region quarterfinals.
  9. Plant senior Birdie Frierson, here in a match earlier this postseason, says on Saturday the Panthers "were just a little bit off. The serves were just a little bit off. The sets were just a little bit off. Nothing felt like ‘This is it. This is our point.’ It was that kind of day.” SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times
    Both Tampa teams sustain road losses in the state semifinals.
  10. The region quarterfinals started Friday night for teams around Tampa Bay. SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times
    The Packers, missing a few playmakers while a few more take their lumps Friday, shut out Countryside.