THREE OAKS — It was a storybook ending to one of the most challenging seasons in River Valley High School football history as the Mustangs came though with big plays again and again on Friday, Oct. 18, to hold off White Cloud 34-21 in the 2019 Homecoming Game.
Heroics abounded for the Mustangs as players battled through injuries and a stubborn opponent to deliver for the team’s lone senior — Tim Hollingsworth.
“That’s the way you finish tour season on a high note,” head coach Jason McDonnough told the assembled players after the game.
He later said it’s been a tough year filled with struggles and a total of six games — the first two varsity, the last four junior varsity, including recent contests against White Pigeon, Berrien Springs and Centreville (a wild 48-38 loss).
“We were on a mission to play for our senior tonight … he’s been here four years. We focused on him all week and they just didn’t want to quit,” McDonnough added.
Both teams began the season with varsity schedules in place. White Cloud canceled those before the first contest due to low numbers of upperclassmen. The River Valley squad was switched to a junior varsity schedule for the remainder of the season prior to a Sept. 13 contest that would have been played in Lawton after a majority of the team boycotted practice on Sept. 9.
The Mustangs fielded a roster of 15 players for the finale (three short of their opening-game line-up), 10 of them freshman and sophomores.
There also was a key contingent of juniors who came up big on Oct. 18 — Andrew Forker, Kevin Seifert, Drew Holub and Braxton Schroeder.
The Mustangs opened the game with a 52-yard scoring drive that culminated with a seven-yard touchdown rush by freshman quarterback Eli Thomas at the 7:53 mark of the first quarter.
That score stood until there was 9:01 left in the second stanza when Forker surged into the end zone from two yards out. The play was preceded by a run to the eight yard line by Thomas on a fourth-down play that made it first-and-goal.
White Cloud got on the scoreboard with 50 seconds to go in the first half when quarterback Steven Holt fired a four-yard pass to Marcelo Vasconez Teran and Adrian Rodriguez kicked the extra point to make it 12-7.
River Valley answered big-time on their next possession as Forker broke loose for a 68-yard sprint to the end zone with just 12 seconds showing on the clock. Holub powered his way in on the two-point conversion play to open up a 20-7 half-time lead.
“The effort tonight was great. We did it for our senior,” Forker said during the post-game celebration. “I’ve been playing with that man for years now. I owed it to him to win this game, to try my hardest no matter what.”
Hollingsworth was crowned Homecoming King during the break (reigning with Queen Nicole Martinelli).
The Indians drove down the field via the pass (and a series of RV penalties) to score with 5:57 to go in the third quarter on a three-yard scoring strike. The extra-point boot left the score 20-14.
As they would do all night, the Mustangs built the lead back up, this time via a 60-yard drive that ended with Holub’s 15-yard touchdown run at the 3:15 mark of the third period to make it a 26-14 game.
White Cloud pulled back within a single score (26-21) with 10:37 remaining in the fourth frame as Teran ran it in from 14 yards out and Rodriguez booted the extra point.
River Valley’s next possession came to a key fourth-and-three play at the White Cloud 35 yard line, and Seifert roared all the way to the 13 yard line to keep the drive alive. Thomas, playing on a sprained ankle that had limited him to handoffs in the second half, surprised the Indian defense with a surge to the two-yard line on a third-and-one play.
“I did it for Timmy … keep fighting,” Thomas later said.
Holub got into the end zone on the next play and Thomas got the extra two points by reaching into the end zone to make it 34-21 with 4:14 showing on the clock.
“We were just really working hard between games, grinding and really trying to get it all down. It’s taken a lot but we got there and we’re going to keep improving,” Holub said. “After all we’ve been through, it’s awesome.”
Hollingsworth, a lineman, helped ice the game with 3:35 left in regulation by recovering a fumble at midfield. He would later run for a first down on third-and-one, allowing the Mustangs to run out the clock and begin the celebration that included the student section rushing the field and triumphantly lifting Hollingsworth up off the turf.
“It just felt amazing to finally win a Homecoming and to still stick as a team even though we’ve been through some hard times this year,” Hollingsworth said.