BIDWELL, Ohio — At the time on Friday night, it was hoped it was just a small speed-bump.
As it turned out, it was a proverbial sinkhole that opened up — and the Raiders fell down — about a mile wide.
That’s because River Valley, the victim of a game-changing turnover in the final first-half seconds, saw its 14-0 lead evaporate into a 49-14 blowout loss to the visiting Waverly Tigers in the 2016 football season finale.
The state-playoff bound Tigers, trailing 14-0 with 27 seconds remaining in the first half, tallied the game’s final 49 points — en route to locking up a 9-1 record and a Division IV, Region 16 quarterfinal home game.
The loss, which was the second consecutive to end the season for the Raiders, left the Silver and Black with a final mark of 6-4.
While Waverly moves on to its fifth all-time playoff appearance, and its first since 2007, the Raiders fell to 5-16 in regular-season finales — in their first-ever meeting against the Tigers.
However, it was truly a tale of two halves — which actually started with the final 38 seconds of the opening half.
The Raiders had staked a 14-0 lead on heavily-favored Waverly — thanks to a 57-yard interception return for a touchdown by Dustin Barber and a 1-yard TD dive by Jaykob Mabe.
Barber ran back his pick-six of Clayton Howell with three minutes remaining in the first quarter, as the Raiders then made it 14-0 — following a nine-play, 56-yard, four-minute and 11-second scoring drive.
With Devin McDonald making both of those extra-point kicks, all was well with River Valley, especially after Barber intercepted Howell again at the 1-yard line — with 49 seconds left in the first half.
But, on the very next play, the Tigers turned the Raiders’ world upside down — recovering a Mabe fumble following a seven-yard gain.
Two plays later, Howell found Kayne Jordan in the end zone for the first of his four touchdown passes — and the first of seven unanswered Tiger scores.
In fact, after the Tigers tied the tilt at 14-14 with 3:48 remaining in the third period, they amassed 35 fourth-quarter points.
Finally, when Ethan Brooker scored from four yards away with 41 seconds remaining, the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s running-clock rule stunningly went into effect.
Indeed, it was a crash-landing to a contest — part of a disappointing final two outcomes in an otherwise good season.
“At the end, it just snow-balled on us,” said River Valley coach Jerrod Sparling. “The first credit you have to give is Waverly. That’s probably the best football team we’ve played all year. They have every right to be in the playoffs. From that turnover at end of the first half, it just snow-balled on us. We didn’t rebound well and we let some situations get away from us. Our kids played hard, but when you lose the turnover battle like we did, and you’re not very effective in controllable yards, you see the end result.”
The Raiders were forced into six punts, but fumbled six times and lost three along with two interceptions.
Their second-half possessions were especially troublesome, as they punted following four plays on their first — before the second series ended with a high snap over punter Tre Craycraft’s head for an 18-yard loss.
With Waverly taking over at the Raider 28-yard line, Howell hit Cade Marquez for the touchdown toss over Barber on the next play from scrimmage.
Darby Teeters, who drilled a perfect 7-of-7 extra-point kicks, tied the game at 14-14 as the rout was just getting underway.
Two more Raider turnovers, a Patrick Brown interception and a fumble on a kickoff return, resulted in two short fourth-quarter touchdown runs by Drew Kritzwiser only two minutes apart.
With 10 minutes remaining, that once 14-0 River Valley lead was now a 28-14 deficit, as the Raiders then went three-and-out on their next two possessions — prior to a final fumble at the Waverly 40-yard line.
The Tigers, meanwhile, turned those empty Raider drives into two more touchdown passes by Howell — before Brooker’s run made it 49-14.
While Howell completed 15-of-31 passes for 230 yards, including 117 in the opening half and 113 in the second, the difference in the final 24 minutes was the Waverly running attack.
The Tigers had just 31 yards on 11 carries at halftime, including Kritzwiser with 18 yards on six attempts, but he erupted for 130 yards on 16 carries in the second half.
For the game, the Tigers tallied 284 of their 432 total yards in the final two quarters, including 202 rushing yards on 33 attempts.
Kritzwiser finished with 148 yards on 22 totes, as Jordan (65 yards) and Marquez (64 yards) caught five and four passes respectively.
In addition, of Waverly’s 24 first downs, 17 were collected in the second half.
The Raiders, conversely, only amounted 151 yards of offense on 60 total plays — and were stymied to only 19 rushing yards on 31 attempts.
Brown, before being ejected midway through the fourth quarter, completed 13-of-23 passes for 107 yards — as Craycraft caught seven balls for 67 yards.
Craycraft also became the first River Valley football player to post 1,000 receiving yards in a single season.
Craycraft was one of 14 RVHS seniors playing his final game on Friday night, as this senior class was part of last season’s first-ever state-playoff squad.
“This senior class was in seventh grade when this coaching staff was first put together in 2011. They’ve done everything we’ve ever asked them to do,” said Sparling. “They’ve put in the hard work, even when times weren’t good. They leave this place with three straight non-losing seasons and the best record over three years in school history. Everything they’ve achieved is well-earned and deserved. We’re sending a bunch of good men into the world.”
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106