Freshman Riley helps lead GHS to first round victory

Published 12:43 am Saturday, November 7, 2009

Freshman quarterback Kent Riley scored three touchdowns to help lead No. 2 Greenville to a 40-7 win over visiting Moody in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs on Friday night.

And one of Riley’s biggest cheerleaders was the player he replaced: starting quarterback and senior Ryan Smith was on the sidelines but out of the game because of an enlarged spleen.

“It was rough,” Smith said about missing the game. “But I’m glad to see the team come out tonight and get a victory.”

And his back-up’s play?

“Kent? Pure rookie,” joked Smith. “But he plays with a lot of heart and once he tastes that endzone he can go a long way.”

The Tigers only led 14-7 at halftime, but Riley shredded Moody’s defense on Greenville’s first possession of the third quarter keeping the ball for a 56-yard touchdown run. A Jay Johnson 44-yard scamper set up a 15-yard scoring run by Riley with 8:18 left in the third quarter. Mikwese Claybourne’s 66-yard catch and run from Riley then set up the freshman’s six-yard touchdown run, which made it 33-7.

Johnson’s 20-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter was just icing on the cake for the Tigers.

Game. Set. Match.

Greenville.

GHS head coach Ben Blackmon couldn’t have been prouder for Riley, who didn’t see action at quarterback until the Tigers’ third possession of the game. Wide receiver Michael Watts and running back Cordez Peagler split time in the backfield, a combination that helped the Tigers build an early 14-0 lead.

“We felt like it could give us a change up, spread them out and run the football,” said Blackmon. “Mike’s such a competitor and he’s got so much self confidence. I felt he could manage the game and once the flow of the game was established and we got up, I felt it was time to put Kent in.”

But Riley wasn’t able to lead the Tigers to the endzone in the first half. Worse, Moody found offense in the second quarter as quarterback Josh Owens hit Perry Best for a 35-yard gain to the Greenville nine-yard line and then, after six consecutive quarterback sneaks – which included converting a fourth and one at the goaline – Owens cut the Tigers’ lead to 14-7 just before halftime.

But Riley came out ready to play in the second half.

“In the first half I was a little nervous,” he said. “But coach talked to me in the locker room and I came out and played my game.”

And the knee he injured last week in the Tigers’ win against Hillcrest-Evergreen?

“It felt a whole lot better this game,” he said. “I got a little pain in it, but I wanted to play for my team tonight.”

While the offense was the story in the second half, it was the defense that set the tone for the game, said Blackmon. Linebacker Daron Mack separated a Moody receiver from the ball on the first play from scrimmage, recovered the fumble and returned it to the Blue Devils’ 10-yard line. A penalty against Greenville cost the Tigers five yards, but Peagler ran 13-yards for the touchdown for a 7-0 lead with 11:01 left in the first quarter.

Watts and Peagler then led the Tigers on an eight-play, 86-yard drive, which was capped off by a 27-yard touchdown run by Peagler. Watts threw one pass: a 14-yard gain to Deangelo Carter.

The Tigers host Demopolis next week at Tiger Stadium in the second round. Demopolis beat Shelby County 26-20 on Friday night.

It will be a rematch between the two teams. Greenville clinched the Region 3 title with a 28-7 win over Demopolis on Oct. 16.