WOODSTOCK — A do-or-die play to end overtime seemed the perfect ending for a game between two teams battling for their first playoff victory.
Ultimately, it was River Ridge which beat Kennesaw Mountain 35-34 on Friday night in the first round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs, but the game wasn’t decided until the final snap.
After Amehre Morrison’s 15-yard touchdown run gave River Ridge (10-0) a 35-28 lead on the first play of the first possession of overtime, Kennesaw Mountain responded three plays later when Cayman Prangley connected with Jaylen Hill for a 13-yard score.
Kennesaw Mountain (4-6), playing in its first playoff game, went for the 2-point conversion and the win, but a reverse was snuffed out by the River Ridge defense, and the Knights celebrated the nail-biting win.
The win advanced River Ridge to the second round, where it will host Rome.
“What a ballgame,” said River Ridge coach Mike Collins, the former Wheeler and Pebblebrook coach. “I’m just glad we ended up on the good end of that one because it could have gone either way. They coached and played their tail off over there at Kennesaw Mountain, and I’m just so proud of my guys for fighting because I knew it was going to be a tough one. It’s the playoffs, and playoffs are just different.”
It was River Ridge's first playoff win in two tries, following a first-round loss to Grady in 2012.
The decision to go for the 2-point conversion came after Kennesaw Mountain overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to tie the game at 28-allwith 2:28 left in the fourth quarter.
Prangley was 10-for-15 passing in the second half and completed his last six consecutive passes, with his final two passes resulting in touchdowns to Hill.
“I’ve got no regrets about anything that was called, anything that happened,” Kennesaw Mountain coach Caleb Carmean said. “I’ve told our kids all year, when in doubt, I’m always going to bet on us. I’m always going to bet on Kennesaw Mountain football players.
“This year’s senior class has done a heck of a job with everything we’ve thrown at them. We were in it to the end, and to battle back like we did tonight, that’s all you can ask for.”
The wild finish seemed unlikely in the third quarter.
River Ridge led 21-14 at halftime and extended its lead when Morrison scored his second touchdown of the game, this time from 5 yards out with less than 3 minutes to play in the third.
Morrison finished with a game-high 162 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries. His overtime touchdown gave life to a River Ridge side that seemed deflated following Kennesaw Mountain's fourth-quarter comeback.
“I’m just happy we got the win,” Morrison said. “It feels really good setting a new culture for this program, and I hope we can keep this going for the next few years. I knew our defense was going to stop them because we practice those game-time situations every day.”
The teams were evenly matched through the first two quarters.
River Ridge penalties — seven for 75 yards in the first half — helped Kennesaw Mountain with field position early, and the Mustangs took advantage. Following Morrison’s 42-yard touchdown run to open the scoring, Hudson Freise scored from 9 yards out to tied the game for the Mustangs late in the first quarter.
River Ridge responded when Andrew Bingham scored on a perfectly executed reverse and dove over the pylon, giving the Knights a 14-7 lead early in the second. Kennesaw Mountain’s following drive took more than 10 minutes, and the Mustangs' completed the 18-play march when TJ Jenkins scored on a short run around the left side.
“In the beginning, I felt like we could have stopped them before they got a couple of points on us,” River Ridge defensive back Scotty Rutherford said. “It was a hard fight on both sides of the ball, and I’m just happy we got the win. I’ll enjoy it this weekend, but we’ve got to come back Monday and get back to work for next week against Rome.”
River Ridge’s score just before halftime gave the Knights a lead and momentum heading into the locker room. Riley Caines, who finished with three receptions for a team-high 56 yards, caught a tipped pass from Carson Lathem and walked into the end zone, giving the Knights a 21-14 lead.