GAINESVILLE - A highlight reel game by senior wide receiver and safety Glenn Miller pushed the Ridgeview High Panther football team to their first win under new coach Matt Knauss in a 14-12 district 5-5A thriller against Gainesville Eastside High on a Thursday Homecoming night at Citizen's Field.
"This was a good district win and will give us confidence to finish strong," said Miller, who, with 5:36 left in the third period and the score locked at 7-6 for Ridgeview, latched on to a backside post pattern pass in the back of the end zone with the ball pinned to the back of his helmet with one hand. "We saw the safety carrying with our motion and we knew we could hit the backside pass. Max (quarterback Max Monroe) threw a great pass."
Knauss, who has released a handful of players and coaches from the team recently, said the mental tenacity of the team was at stake and that the boys remaining on the team and the upcoming junior varsity players elevated to varsity, will be tasked to finish the season with a flurry.
"We have had three situations like this where we had a chance to win in the fourth quarter and could not close the game," said Knauss. "We had a scoop and score blocked punt tonight not phase us and we came out and won the football game. I couldn't be more proud."
In Gainesville, with the Eastside High Rams offense without quarterback Anthony Richardson behind center with his 1398 yards passing in just six games with eight touchdowns, the Ridgeview defense got a sterling effort from defensive tackle Jordan Jackson and defensive end Lorenzen Forlani against a much heavier Rams offensive line.
"We just used our hands and our quickness to get away from them," said Jackson, the heaviest of the Panther line at 240 pounds. "We were hungry tonight and wanted to overcome our adversity of starting 0-5."
From the opening whistle, the Panther defense found out that the Eastside attack was going to be a run game straight into the teeth of the Panther defense with freshman quarterback Holden Johnson knocked out of the game early after fumbling on his second series from a vicious hit from Panther linebacker Jacob Myers. Defensive back A.J. Beaufort would grab the loose ball to put the Panther offense back on the field.
After the recovery on the Panther 24, Panther quarterback Max Monroe hit slant passes to Miller and Rolando Gray, who held his despite a wicked hit, as the Panther offense moved quickly to capitalize on the turnover.
Gray's catch would put Ridgeview at midfield where Spencer Calise took a post pattern to the Ram 23 as the second quarter started.
After a pass to end Josh Dorsainvil to the 15, Knauss took a shot at a fourth and three that Monroe punched up a first down before scrambling right from nine yards out to beat the Ram defense to the end zone pylon. Austin Leonard's PAT kick scored the game 7-0.
From there, after a much-discussed onsides kick that T.J. McClain fell on, then got rekicked for a penalty flag, the game would be a contest of four Eastside offensive linemen over 300 pounds versus the Panther defense that had just one player that approached 250 pounds.
Fortunately for Ridgeview, the center snap for Eastside was less than efficient and gave Jackson and D?illion Torres opportunity for sacks, Eastside punted off a fourth and 35 sequence from the Ram 20.
Monroe connected with Calise again and got additional yardage on a roughing the passer flag, but Ridgeview stalled at the Eastside 35.
A 30 yard run on first down put Eastside at the Panther 22, but Myer and McClain and Beaufort combined for two tackles for losses to slow the drive.
From the six, Eastside scored to put the game at 7-6 with the PAT kick wide left as the half ended.
Miller would intercept on Eastside's first pass of the second half, but Monroe could not move the ball and set up for a quick kick from the 46 that landed at the Eastside three yard line.
Myer and Miika Tuisano began asserting themselves by filling holes on the Ram line with Miller and Myer combining to halt a fourth and three at Eastside's 23 yard line.
After a first down pass of 16 yards to Dorsainvil, Monroe rolled right as Knauss set up Miller's touchdown grab with a little misdirection.
"We knew the change of new coach would be slow coming," said Monroe. "We've held it together as a team and this is the result."
Up 14-6, but with plenty of time left in the game, the Panther defense started to bend to the front end power of the Ram offensive line with a steady blast of 5-9 yard runs moving the ball to midfield before a fourth and 12 pass got slapped down by Myer to end the drive at the Panther 36 as the fourth quarter ended.
A blocked punt on a Monroe quick kick that got picked up and run into the end zone made the game interesting in the fourth period as Eastside smelled blood in the water for the first time.
An Eastside punt return to the Panther 40 was negated for a vicious hit on Juan Pereira in coverage as Eastside was pushed back to start at the Ram 30.
Panther defensive back Nate Johnson snared his first varsity interception two plays later and Miller got an interference flag on a pass catch attempt at the Ram three yard line to put Monroe back in scoring position at the Ram 14, but runs from Darius Allen could only get to the four yard line.
Eastside wanted to end the Homecoming festivities with a flurry, but sacks from Jackson and Myer squashed momentum and Miller snagged a final pass interception to end the game.
"I wanted to take it to the house," said Miller.
Ridgeview continues their chase for a district playoff berth with a loss to Orange Park the lone blemish and games ahead with Menendez (beat Eastside Sept. 13 35-18) and Clay (0-6, play Menendez October 11) the next two Fridays.
"We get those two and with our schedule; Baldwin, Oakleaf and Fleming Island, all playoff teams last year, we get some help, we get lucky," said Knauss, who came to Ridgeview after being a part of a state title at Bishop Moore and a playoff run at Father Lopez. "It's in our hands."