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Varsity Football · Pirates stop Patriots, 31-14

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio – With an Anchor-Down performance on a third-quarter goal-line stand and a determined effort in the second half, Rocky River defeated Valley Forge, 31-14, on Friday night.

Playing before a busting-at-the-seems crowd in River’s Homecoming Game, the Pirates came up with big plays on offense, defense and special teams as they scored 17 unanswered points against the Patriots. Leading, 17-14, midway through the third quarter, Rocky River pulled off a rock-solid defense of its own goal line by stopping three straight plays inside its own 3-yard line.

“That goal-line stand was a huge confidence-builder,” said Head Coach Josh Wells, whose Pirates get back to being over .500 after two straight losses. “And not just for this game but in moving forward. Our kids anchored down and didn’t give ground in a tough situation.”

The 2017 Pirates live by the motto of “Anchor Down” – a leadership and mental toughness philosophy aimed to keep players focused as a unit and from drifting in mental approach or execution.

Faced with falling behind to a solid Valley Forge team on that third-quarter stand, the Pirate anchor was seemingly imbedded somewhere several feet north of the south end zone. And there was most certainly no drift whatsoever. A strong-running Patriot squad – which would rush for 166 yards and two touchdowns on the night – couldn’t get three yards on three plays when the game hung in the balance. And then, after Rocky River was pinned back in the shadow of its own goalpost, a booming punt by junior Patrick Green and a big defensive stand led by senior linebacker Ben FitzGibbon extricated the Pirates from the field-tilt predicament and propelled the team to a big fourth quarter.

The third-quarter stand was set up by a mostly even exchange of firepower in the game’s first half. A late-half field goal off the right foot of senior kicker Michael Konrad – as season-best 40-yarder – vaulted River to a 17-14 lead. But the first-half clock was controlled by the visiting Patriots (3-4, 2-1 Great Lakes Conference), who looked to be poised to continue their winning ways in conference play.

When the Patriots pitched a three-and-out in the first possession of the third quarter, the Valley Forge offense came out and set up shop at its own 31. Five minutes and 68 yards later, the Patriots were knocking on the door. On a first-and-goal from the 9-yard line, Valley Forge moved the ball down to the 3. With every link of the anchor chain holding firm, they would get six more feet. And no more.

After River was “three-and-outed” by the Patriots, Green ripped a 43-yard punt that was returned to the Pirate 42. Five plays later, after a titanic FitzGibbon sack near midfield, the Valley Forge threat was ended.

The Rocky River (4-3, 2-1) defense forced a fumble early in the fourth, and the Pirate offense capitalized with a 42-yard TD drive. A Michael Finnegan-to-Christain Dean pass covered two-thirds of that march, and the drive was punctuated by Dameon Crawford’s 31st career rushing TD at the 5:32-mark. Another defensive stand late in the fourth led to a 26-yard TD drive. If Crawford’s TD to put Rocky River in front, 24-14, had been some sort of punctuation, River’s final piece of paydirt was an exclamation mark. That last score came on a powerful, 12-yard bull-rush to maroon paint by senior running back Matt Popovich.

“This was a hard-fought game,” said Wells. “Our coaching staff made some great halftime adjustments, and the players executed and took over the game in the second half.”

Popovich, who had a 63-yard TD run in the first half, finished with 101 yards on eight carries. He was the stalwart of a River offense that managed just 207 total yards against the Patriots. Finnegan went 6-of-9 for 82 yards and a TD. His touchdown pass – caught by senior Max Kovesdy – was the only score of the game’s first quarter.

The Pirate defense – which for the game held Valley Forge to a combined 4-of-19 (21 percent) mark on third and fourth downs – was paced by FitzGibbon (nine tackles), Ross Hartman (15 tackles, two run stuffs) and Michael Shoaf (five tackles, sack, stuff). For the game, River was credited with 10 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

As if the Patriots were anchored in place.

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