Conference champs, it has a nice ring to it and was finalized Friday night in the final home game of the regular season for the Riverton Wolverines with a 28-7 win over Worland. The Wolverines will have another home game next weekend against Evanston in the opening round of the Class 3-A playoffs.
Riverton tied Buffalo and Douglas with identical 4-1 but earned the top seed out of the 3-A East via a point-based tiebreaker.
By margin of victory, Riverton beat Buffalo by 11, Buffalo beat Douglas by 10 and Douglas beat the Wolverines by seven. By virtue of their greater point spread over Buffalo Riverton takes the conference crown and hosts fourth-seeded Evanston out of the West.
“I was hoping that we could find a way to scratch out some wins and be competitive,” Riverton head coach Mark Lenhardt said. “A big win last week set the table for tonight.”
The Wolverines dropped a 34-27 decision to Evanston in the early season, but they’ve steadily improved in every facet of the game over the course of the year under first-year head coach Lehnhardt.
The bulk of that improvement came on the offensive line, where bulk is the key word with a sizeable contingent up front leading the way for quarterback Darrick DeVries.
The Wolverine line of Zaryc Prosser, Xavier Garcia, Nathan Mills, Lyric Gordon, Ryan Cox, Ryan Watson, and Ayden Sanchez. Tyree Harris-Aragon is an integral part of the line but has missed the last two weeks with an injury but is hopeful for the opening round next week.
Line play has been an area of emphasis since the pre-season and the big boys up front have rallied to the challenge.
The Wolverines opened the game with a short drive that stalled with Gage Treber’s punt landing at the 14 with a Warrior fair catch.
Three quick plays had Ryan Deniz back to punt. Ty Sheets broke around the right side of the Worland line and blocked the punt, giving Riverton outstanding field position at the seven-yard line.
“It was an odd game, we ran the ball and chewed up a lot of clock, scored,” Lenhardt said. “We’re trying to find ways to win the game in different ways, Ty Sheets’ punt block was huge.”
Darrick DeVries connected with Nick McIntosh on a six-yard pass and Hunter Saltsgaver’s kick split the uprights for a 7-0 Riverton lead with 3:38 remaining in the first period.
Saltgaver’s kickoff hit the ground at the four-yard line with backspin lifting it straight into the air and a Worland returner racing back to grab it after he expected it to bounce into the end zone.
A brief punting dual gave the Warriors the field position edge on Deniz’s leg. Riverton’s line opened good holes in the Worland defense on inside power runs by DeVries, Blake Gantenbein, and Saltsgaver with solid point-of-attack blocking on a 39-yard counter by Sheets.
Riverton marched steadily, primarily on short runs before the drive was capped by DeVries on a one-yard run. On that scoring play Riverton tackle Ryan Cox leveled Worland defensive tackle Bronson Newell, rolling Newell three times in the process.
Lyric Gordon was a madman in the trenches flying into defenders with abandon and opening good holes with driving blocks.
Riverton held a 14-0 lead going into the half.
Lightning struck for the Warriors on the opening kick with Cale Cheatam taking the ball at the nine-yard line, juking to the middle, then turning upfield down the Worland sideline for a 91-yard touchdown. Deniz added the point after to cut the score in half at 14-7.
“It wasn’t our best performance but give a lot of credit to Worland’s coaches,” Lenhardt said.
The quick strike was a wake-up call for Riverton. They mounted two impressive drives in the third period to put the game away.
The first ended on a three-yard DeVries plunge, and the second a 17-yard reception by McIntosh from DeVries.
“We did it on the ground in the second half and that’s important,” Lenhardt said. “Hopefully we play a whole game like we did the second half.”
Worland’s only scoring threat via their offense came at the end of the opening half and ended with Sheets intercepting the ball in the end zone.
The final minutes of the game featured the Riverton junior varsity offense.
“Evanston’s going to cause some serious problems.,” Lenhardt said. “We’re going to have our hands full. They’re a good team.”
Riverton 7 7 14 0 – 28
Worland 0 0 7 0 – 7
RIV – Nick McIntosh 6-pass from Darrick DeVries (Hunter Saltsgaver kick) 3:38
RIV – DeVries 1-run (Saltsgaver kick) 6:20
WOR – Cale Cheatem 91-kickoff return (Ryan Deniz Kick) 11:46
RIV – DeVries 3-run (Saltsgaver kick) 5:19
RIV – McIntosh 17-pass from DeVries (Saltsgaver kick):32