FISHERSVILLE — Riverheads etched the 43rd consecutive notch on its winning belt after the Gladiators manhandled the fumble-prone Wilson Memorial Green Hornets 56-14 in a Shenandoah District football Saturday matinee.
The Hornets left the ball on the ground five times in the first half for Riverheads (7-0, 3-0) to fall on, resulting in 28 points, including a scoop-n-score in the first quarter.
Wilson (4-3, 2-1) was already behind the 8-ball before getting the butter fingers after Riverheads sophomore sensation Cayden Cook-Cash sprinted 61 yards to the house on the game’s second play.
“We hadn’t fumbled like that all year, and today was not the time against a team like Riverheads,” Wilson head coach Drew Bugden said.
By the time the half rolled around, the Gladiators had a 49-0 blowout despite running only 19 offensive plays. They had just 32 for the entire game.
“I just didn’t feel like we had any rhythm despite the points,” Riverheads head coach Robert Casto said. “We got the ball a lot deep on their end of the field because of the turnovers. We scored a lot of points, but I am not sure what really happened.”
The Gladiators’ offense ran almost the same number of plays the week before at Buffalo Gap, so Casto hasn’t seen a lot of snaps lately to develop the rhythm, which his offense is predicated.
Against the Hornets, the seven offensive scores consisted of 2, 4, 1, 3, 4, 1 and 1 plays.
Cook-Cash led the offense with 192 yards on only six carries, while rushing for two long TDs and hauling in a scoring reception. Cole Burton collected 65 yards and a pair of scores on fullback traps, while Luke Bryant scored once and had 30 yards.
All told, the Gladiators amassed 384 yards of total offense with 343 coming on the ground. Both of quarterback Bennett Dunlap’s completions went for TDs.
“I thought all the backs ran the ball really well and Bennett threw the ball on target when I asked him to throw it.”
Casto likes Saturday games because normally that means his team is in a regional championship or playing at the state level. The Gladiators have had two regular-season Saturday outings this season, routing Tazewell on the road earlier 56-19.
“All in all it was a good Saturday,” he said. “The kids were focused and the defense played really well after we got a feel for what Wilson was doing early on.”
The contest finally ended Riverheads’ five-game road swing that spanned six weeks. The Gladiators haven’t played at home since Sept. 3. However, they are likely to see home sweet home quite a lot in the foreseeable future as it is possible they won’t have to board a bus again until Dec. 11 for Salem Stadium and another Class 1 championship battle.
The same could be said for the Hornets, who were playing at home for the first time since crushing Waynesboro 41-18 on Sept. 17.
Wilson was playing its third game in eight days, having lost Tuesday at Rockbridge County in a makeup contest. The Hornets entered the week No. 4 in the Region 3C power ratings, but the loss to the Wildcats dropped them to sixth.
Bugden said the busy time frame played no factor in Saturday’s woes.
“Riverheads is a very disciplined and well-coached team that takes advantage of every mistake you make,” he said. “It is admirable how well-coached and the class that program displays.”
Down 7-0 after Cook-Cash’s early lightning bolt, Wilson survived its first fumble after driving to Riverheads’ 42 where Noah Smiley fell on the loose ball. The next four fumbles ended up costing the Hornets 28 points.
After stopping the Gladiators on downs following the first mistake, Wilson again reached Riverheads territory at the 43 after converting a fourth-and-one. On first down, disaster struck when the snap from center sailed over the head of quarterback Aiden Podgorski, and Isaac Hartless had himself a 45-yard scoop-n-score.
Leading 14-0 after 12 minutes, the Gladiators exploded for 35 second-quarter points, 21 coming via the fumble.
Riverheads scored on its first possession of the period following a punt when Cook-Cash broke free for 54 yards to Wilson’s 25. After a holding penalty nullified a touchdown, the Gladiators scored on the next play when Burton went up the middle from 22 yards.
The Gladiators were back in business at Wilson’s 29 following a Burton recovery. On the first play, Dunlap rolled to his right and hit a wide-open Landon Lightner for the tally.
Wilson fumbled twice more at its 15 with the recoveries by Bryant and Logan Hostetter, and Cook-Cash caught an 11-yard TD reception and Bryant swept the left side from 20 yards out, again on the next play after a penalty called back a score. Burton added a 35-yard romp between the two fumbles.
“I am disappointed in the fumbles, but that can be corrected,” Bugden said. “Punting is not a bad thing instead of losing the ball on your end of the field and giving them six points. At least make Riverheads have to work a long field.”
If things didn’t go bad enough for the Hornets in the first half, they lost top running back Noah Campbell to an ankle injury midway through the second period. Campbell spent the rest of the game in crutches.
Cash-Cash took the Gladiators’ first snap of the second half 69 yards to the end zone, which finished Riverheads’ scoring blitz.
Wilson averted the shutout when Skyler Whiting produced long scoring runs of 49 and 75 yards in the third and fourth quarters, respectively, against the Gladiator reserves.
“It is an honor and a privilege to coach these kids whether we are up 50 or down 50,” Bugden said.
Riverheads is finally back home Friday for a visit from Fort Defiance, while Wilson’s brutal stretch of high-caliber opponents continues at home against Stuarts Draft.
RIVERHEADS 56, WILSON MEMORIAL 14
RIVERHEADS 14 35 7 0 — 56
WILSON MEMORIAL 0 0 7 7 — 14
RIV — Cook-Cash 61 run (Robson kick)
RIV — Hartless 45 fumble return (Robson kick)
RIV — Burton 22 run (Robson kick)
RIV — Lightner 29 pass from Dunlap (Robson kick)
RIV — Cook-Cash 11 pass from Dunlap (Robson kick)
RIV — Burton 35 run (Robson kick)
RIV — Bryant 20 run (Robson kick)