Auburn Riverside football will play in the state tournament. That is a phrase that quite literally has only been said in the minds of players who have strapped up the team’s blue helmets for the Ravens.
But that is no longer the case after Auburn Riverside defeated Juanita, 28-9, in Week 10 — securing a spot in state.
“I’m just so excited. I don’t know what to say,” said quarterback Andrew Wold.
Auburn Riverside was coming off one of its better games of the season in its regular season finale against Auburn. The Ravens won the league with a convincing win over the Trojans, reversing the result from last year where Auburn beat the Ravens to win the league title.
“Every game is an opportunity and a blessing to come out here and watch these guys do what they love, and coaches do what they love. The thing that I am most thankful for is I get to spend another week with these guys,” said Head Coach Greg Herd.
The game got off to a tough start for both sides. The Ravens fumbled the ball on their first possession, yet the defense held strong and kept Juanita to just a field goal, foreshadowing the dominance of the Riverside defense for the entirety of the game — and that comes down to coaching.
“Jordan Winger does an awesome job of coming up with a scheme and a great job of teaching it to our players. Our players do a great job of investing it and making it their own,” Herd said.
Over the last two games, the Ravens’ defense has been the strong suit.
“These last two weeks have been our best performances as far as guys being locked in and dialed in for an entire game. So kudos to them,” Herd said.
It was a struggle for the Auburn Riverside offense to get going, as they went into halftime with no points on the scoreboard.
“We battled some adversity in the first half. We just talked about ‘keep chopping wood.’ Keep chopping away. We were very even keeled in the locker room. We were very excited to come out and play another half,” Herd said.
“I thought we had a lot of opportunities we just missed on. I feel like our whole offense was feeling really confident that we could go down and drive the field,” Wold said.
And Wold was correct. On Auburn Riverside’s first possession of the second half, the Ravens ran the ball six times and got the first touchdown of the game. Thyrou Umi-Tuato’o smashed his way into the end zone from six yards out and Riverside never looked back.
Tuato’o led the offense and defense with physicality, which was reciprocated throughout.
“When you get in the playoffs, you gotta play physical. My coach in college used to call November ‘Big man month.’ The weather is going to get bad, all the finesse stuff goes out the window. You’re gonna have to play a physical style football,” said Herd.
On Auburn Riverside’s very next possession, quarterback Andrew Wold found Cole Svendsen over the middle for a 76-yard touchdown.
“Cole was having a couple off plays early, then he makes that huge play. It was a hell of a ball from Wold and catch and YAC (Yards after catch) from that guy (Svendsen),” Herd said.
Wold never had a doubt Svendsen was going to find the endzone: “Once I saw the defender miss, I knew he was gone,” he said.
Auburn Riverside’s defense continued to play well late in the football game. Sophomore Mika Petaia got his first interception of the game and the Ravens’ offense rewarded the defense with more points. Highly touted recruit Jonathan Epperson had been only playing defense in the game, but on his first carry, he took it to the house. Epperson’s 46-yard score was the nail in the coffin for Juanita.
The Ravens got another interception late in the fourth quarter via Lucas Lemalu. Umi-Tuato’o got his second touchdown of the game, capping off another solid drive for the Ravens. Five plays, all of them running plays and with 1:12 remaining, the game was over 28-3, Ravens.
Juanita did get a touchdown as time expired, but that was it. It was a huge game for the Ravens’ defense, a unit that has come alive the last two weeks.
The first ever state playoff game will be no walk-in-the-park for the Ravens. As the 15th seed, they have the second most difficult draw, the O’Dea Fighting Irish.
“It takes definitely some good football… It’s going to be tough; it’s not going to be easy. We’re just scratching the surface, so we’ve got to be ready to work and get to it. I’m fired up about it,” said Herd.
The Ravens take on the Irish in Seattle at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 10.