RIVERTON You're in a close football game. You need to pick up big chunks of yardage. You need big plays and points on the board. Would you rather be the team with a potent aerial attack or the drumbeat ground game?
Conventional wisdom says that you can cover more ground and break more big plays through the air. Conventional wisdom proved wrong Thursday night, as Riverton's rushing juggernaut piled up more than 350 yards, which led to a 28-21 Region 3 victory over Copper Hills.
"We believe you have to run the ball to control the game," said Riverton coach Mike Miller.
Yeah, but win a tight back-and-forth battle? Most definitely, if you average seven yards per rushing attempt, which the Wolves did. Using a straight-ahead approach with an occasional sweep to the perimeter, Riverton carved up the Grizzlies' defense for big gain after big gain. Zach Spencer (30 carries for 176 yards) was the between-the-tackles workhorse for the Wolves, with Dillon Draper (10 carries, 114 yards) providing a shifty change of pace and Daniel Hoffman (seven carries, 50 yards and two touchdowns) finishing drives.
Riverton's ground game was so effective that the Wolves didn't even attempt a pass until they burned up 36 yards on eight plays on the game's opening drive. That rushing success led to back-to-back scoring campaigns in the first quarter. The Wolves passed only twice while grabbing a 14-0 advantage on drives of 10 plays, 80 yards and five plays, 66 yards.
Copper Hills, however, didn't gain positive yardage on any play until quarterback Josh Soter linked up with Chandler Allen for 41 yards with about 3:30 left in the opening period. That play lit a fire under the Grizzlies' passing attack. After the sluggish start, Soter exploded to finish 20-for-31 for 331 yards, including two touchdowns and an interception. His favorite target was Allen, who grabbed four passes in each half and heaped on 174 yards and a score.
Soter led the pass-happy Grizzlies to paydirt for the first time on a 17-yard hookup with Chandler Johnson with 3:11 left in the first quarter, and he leveled the score on a sidearm strike to Allen with 2:15 to play before halftime intermission. Soter's gaudy passing totals would have been even stronger if he hadn't thrown four straight incompletions on desperation heaves in the final seconds of the first half.
For his part, Miller was glad those passes fell to the turf.
"Copper Hills has some good athletes," he said. "They made some big plays when they needed them."
Neither team was able to completely put down the other in the second half they traded touchdowns, Riverton blocked a 26-yard field goal attempt by Copper Hills and the Grizzlies stuffed the Wolves on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Riverton finally broke through in the fourth quarter with a six-play, 65-yard drive that included successive runs of 11, 10, 15 and 12 yards. In an ironic twist, the run-loving Wolves capped the drive, and set up the winning margin, when quarterback Davis Johnson connected with Tad Carter on a 12-yard fade in the corner of the end zone the only pass play of the game-winning drive.
"My kids came up big when they needed to," Miller said. "It was a good character win."