BEAVER FALLS – To see Beaver Falls atop the Midwestern Conference standings is no surprise.
After all, the Tigers finished last season as WPIAL Class 2A runners-up and are considered to be a contender to get back to the title game.
However, Riverside (3-1 overall, 2-0 Midwestern) being tied with Beaver Falls (2-0, 4-1) has raised some eyebrows. The Panthers went 1-8 last year and have already tripled their win output. That tie will be broken Friday at 7:30 p.m. when Riverside visits the Tigers at Geneva College’s Reeves Field in the Times' Game of the Week in Week 5.
“I think our early season success can be attributed to the kids’ hard work in the offseason. We really had to buckle down in the offseason,” Riverside coach Fran Ramsden said. “We spent a majority of the offseason almost in individual periods with the groups. We asked each assistant coach to coach just one position, which is unusual. That’s something we committed to so we can get a lot of that expertise and transfer of knowledge to the kids.”
Riverside, which started a bunch of freshmen and sophomores last year, returned eight starters on both sides of the ball. The extra year of experience has been big for the young Panthers.
“There’s a lot of growth, physically with their bodies as well as maturation,” Ramsden said. “Having their physical capabilities advance has been a part of it. I think our team has gotten faster and stronger. Going from freshman to sophomore to junior year, there are a lot of physical changes. That’s just helped us a bunch.”
After pulling out thrilling wins over Mohawk (32-28) and Freedom (28-21) the past two weeks, Riverside is eager to see if it can conjure some more magic.
“The beginning of the season for us is sort of a proving grounds,” Ramsden said. “It starts in circles. At first, the team has to believe itself. Then, the parents and fans have to believe. Then, other teams in the conference watch you and believe. We’re still on part one. We’re making sure we’re up to playing in big games and competitive games.”
The Tigers offer the team’s biggest challenge yet. After a turnover-filled 19-16 loss to Beaver, Beaver Falls stormed to three wins, with the last two via shutout (48-0 over New Brighton and 22-0 over Neshannock).
“I think we’re just trying to be consistent with our play,” Beaver Falls coach Nick Nardone said. “We’re pretty blessed with a lot of talent on our team. We’ve been locked in on playing mistake-free, disciplined football and it’s helped us win these last couple of games.”
Nardone knows the Tigers can’t stray from that approach this week, either.
“Riverside moves the ball well. They look like they have a pretty decent line. Their running back (Robert Janis) has run all over teams. He has done a nice job. Sam Hughes is a veteran; he’s been starting for a long time. He throws a nice deep ball. They are good on all facets on offense,” he said. “Defensively, they give you different looks and try to confuse you. We’ll just have to be mentally locked in and trust and know our assignments. As long as we’re locked in, we hope we can pull out another win.”
Janis rushed for 140 yards and two scores last week. He has 463 yards on 62 carries (7.5 yards per carry average) on the season. Hughes has passed for 261 yards and two scores.
Meanwhile, the Tigers spread the ball around to multiple runners. Quarterback Jaren Brickner (373 yards) leads the way. Brixx Rawl (218), Drey Hall (213), Michael Blackshear (134), Trey Singleton (118), Datalian Beauford (82) and Isaiah Aeschbacher (69) all have been involved. Brickner passed for 153 yards and rushed for 104 last week against Neshannock.
“Beaver Falls is a championship-caliber team. As far as I am concerned, they are that way every year until someone beats them,” Ramsden said. “They have an awesome balance of run and pass. Defensively, they are extremely physical and fast. They have a bunch of tough kids. It should be a physical game. The opportunity to face teams of this caliber halfway through the season don’t come often. It’s certainly an opportunity we are relishing.”
This article originally appeared on Beaver County Times: Times' Game of the Week Preview: Riverside at Beaver Falls