GREENVILLE — For the second time this season, the Riverheads High School football team used a strong second-half performance to shut down Stuarts Draft.
This time, the final score was 35-13, giving the Gladiators the Shenandoah District regular season championship and extending their winning streak to 46 games.
Leading 7-0 at the half, Riverheads (10-0) scored three times in the third period to break open what had been a bruising defensive struggle.
“Defense was the name of the game,” said Riverheads coach Robert Casto. “They executed well.”
Yards on the ground came at a premium for the Cougars (7-2), who now await other Class 2B results to see if they will maintain their No. 1 seeding for the start of next weeks’ first round of playoff action.
Riverheads clinched the top spot in Region 1B weeks ago and had already earned a bye in the six-team 1B playoffs next week.
“I would like to play next week, but we need a break,” Casto said.
Sophomore sensation running back Cayden Cook-Cash broke off three long touchdown runs in the second half to dash the Cougars’ hopes of a comeback.
“We have good running backs and our offensive line makes things happen,” Casto said. “They stayed on their blocks, stayed the course and were getting after it.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the Gladiators scored first, thanks to a nine-play drive, which was all on the ground with junior Luke Bryant blasting in from the Draft one.
Senior Cooper Robson was perfect on all five of his extra point kicks and Riverheads took a 7-0 lead into halftime.
The Cougars took the kickoff to start the second half and promptly moved downfield for the tying score.
Freshman quarterback Landon Graber completed the nine-play, 61-yard drive with a one-yard sneak himself and sophomore kicker Bryce Dennison converted the extra point.
The Gladiators response was immediate.
On the second play from scrimmage, senior fullback Cole Burton broke through the line and outran the Cougar defense on a 52-yard scoring jaunt.
Less than two minutes later, Cook-Cash broke away for a 64-yard TD run and it was 21-7 in favor of the Red Pride with 5:37 left in the quarter.
The Cougars opened up their playbook as Graber began to connect through the air, first to senior Symeon Balser and then to Daeaun Brooks to the Riverheads 26.
Moving on down to the 10, Graber connected with Izaiyah Bell for a TD pass, but Dennison’s PAT was wide, cutting the RHS lead to eight (21-13).
Again, it didn’t take long for the Gladiators to answer as Cook-Cash broke several tackles and was on his way to the sideline on a 61-yard TD run.
Cook-Cash completed his big night in the fourth quarter with a 43-yard run for touchdown with 4:41 left in the game.
“They (Stuarts Draft) are a good football team, but we are better now than the first time we played them,” Casto said.
Cook-Cash rambled for 256 yards on 15 carries as Riverheads gained 452 total yards on the ground as a team on 45 carries.
Quarterback Bennett Dunlap completed three-of-six passes for 50 yards.
For Stuarts Draft, Graber passed for 111 yards, going nine-for-21 through the air and also had an interception on defense.
The Gladiator defense held the Cougars to a net of just 49 yards on the ground.
RIVERHEADS 35, STUARTS DRAFT 13
STUARTS DRAFT 0 0 13 0 — 13
RIVERHEADS 0 7 21 7 — 35
R—Bryant 1 run (Robson kick)