Winning championships may never get old, but the feat is becoming old hat to the Riverside Chargers.
Riverside blitzed fellow unbeaten Cody-Kilgore with 40 first-quarter points in Friday’s Nebraska Six-Man Football State Championship Game at UNK’s Foster Field and scored a 60-30 final victory that gave the school its third straight title. Riverside, in fact, has been the state six-man champion in every year of the school’s existence.
With the win, Riverside (11-0) matched Arthur County as the only programs to win three straight Nebraska six-man championships.
While the Chargers were without 2015 six-man offensive player of the year Noah Valasek – sidelined with a broken collarbone suffered in Riverside’s first-round playoff tilt – and counting on several young sophomore and freshmen players in key positions, the team’s overall title game experience was a key factor in the fast start and overwhelming performance.
“The experience is huge,” Riverside Coach Joe Imus, whose team won its state-best 26th consecutive game, acknowledged to media after the contest. “When we showed up here the first year, the kids were kind of in awe … this year they knew they were here to play a football game.”
Although six-man points can add up in a hurry, and no lead is completely safe, Riverside’s first period avalanche put the Chargers in firm control Friday. Riverside hit the turf running, and flat ran away from Cody-Kilgore, which had gained the reputation as likely being six-man’s biggest, most physical squad while reeling off 10 straight wins of its own in 2016.
Bigger is not always better, however. Size and strength are not as important in the six-man game as in the 11 and eight-man versions. Speed, quickness and ingenuity rule the day – all of which Riverside has in spades. Still, football is football, and it takes toughness, as well, Imus reminded.
“We haven’t seen a team this big and physical all year, so I didn’t know for sure how we would respond to it,” he said. “Our message all week was to match their physicality and, for the most part, we did. But overall, they probably had a few more punches than we did.”
Those punches couldn’t match Riverside’s lightning-fast jabs and knockout haymakers, however.
Sophomore Ty Martinsen continued his scintillating postseason – running for a touchdown, catching a pass for a score, and throwing for two more touchdowns – and was instrumental in the Chargers’ fast start.
Cody-Kilgore Coach Landon Miller said Riverside did not surprise his squad with it’s strategy. The Chargers did impress Miller with their execution and ability, however.
“As far as X and Os, nothing really surprised us,” he commented to reporters. “What surprised us the most was the speed they did it with. We weren’t able to simulate that in practice and I think that was a factor in how the game started.”
The numbers that really mattered in the end were 60-30 and three. As in three straight.
“It means a lot because three years ago we didn’t even know if we would have a football team,” Imus noted. “Starting a new school district with three straight state championships, you can’t start any better than that.
“Hopefully, our youth can carry it over to next year.”