RIO VISTA — The Rio Vista Eagles did everything they wanted early to build a 35-7 halftime lead before holding on in the second half for a 41-33 win over Valley Mills on Friday.
A year after going 2-8, the Eagles improved to 6-1 on the season with Friday's win guaranteeing Rio Vista of its first winning season since going 6-5 in 2003. The Eagles also moved to 2-1 in District 7-2A Division I play, inching closer to a playoff berth in their second season under Coach Kasey Black.
“That's huge,” Black said of reaching six wins. “I told our seniors after the game, you are now winners. It's been so long since you could call yourselves that around here. But you're winners. It shows how much you've done and how far you've come.
“These guys are playing with so much confidence. They're not going out there to lose games, they're going out there to do what we taught them and to win games. I can't tell you how proud I am of our kids. Especially going 2-8 last year and now we're 6-1, it's such a different feeling. All the credit goes to the kids.”
Rio Vista sophomore quarterback Taylor Pritchett has been a big part of the Eagles' turnaround season, and he opened the scoring on a 20-yard run, followed by a Brent Hoffman 11-yard touchdown run.
Later in the first quarter, Pritchett connected with senior standout Anthony Perez for a six-yard touchdown pass and a 21-0 lead.
With the Eagles threatening to blow the game open, Rio Vista fumbled and Valley Mills recovered. On the next play, Valley Mills scored on a 75-yard touchdown run to make it 21-7 at the end of the opening quarter.
But Rio Vista got back on track after the two miscues and Pritchett finished the first half with a four-yard touchdown run and a 10-yard touchdown pass to Perez to give Rio Vista a commanding 35-7 lead at halftime.
However, Pritchett would go do down with an injury and Rio Vista struggled offensively in the second half.
“We were doing whatever we wanted to on offense,” Black said. “We're running it and throwing whenever we need to. Then our QB gets hurt. We had to change our game plan a little bit. I told them that's my fault because I have to put our players in positions they can be successful and I didn't do a good job of that in the second half.”
Valley Mills cut the deficit to 21 on a 19-yard touchdown pass, but Rio Vista's defense came through with a big play as Perez returned a fumble 74 yards for a touchdown and a 41-14 lead. That play wound up being the difference.
Valley Mills scored three straight touchdowns — as Rio Vista struggled with a couple of untimely penalties on defense — to make it a one-possession lead, with plenty of time left and a reeling Rio Vista offense that hadn't done much after Pritchett exited the game.
After Valley Mills' touchdown made it 41-33, Rio Vista took over with just under 5 minutes remaining. And despite all the offensive struggles in the second half, Rio Vista made enough plays to hold off Valley Mills.
“They had two timeouts left and they took them early to try and get the ball back,” Black said. “We had to get a big first down. [Backup quarterback] Grady Gregg threw a good pass to Josh Howard and Josh fought for yardage [a 13-yard gain] to get the first down. That was huge.”
After Rio Vista was able to run additional time off the clock, Valley Mills forced a punt. And that's where Rio Vista received another big play as punter Zane Blythe skied a 40-yard punt, with Perez batting the ball from the end zone to avoid a touchback to pin Valley Mills at its own four-yard line with 50 seconds left.
“That was huge getting a couple first downs and then a big punt to seal the game,” Black said. “That's the positive in the whole thing was how we were able to finish there.”
Pritchett completed 6-of-12 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 122 rushing yards and two scores on 20 carries before leaving with an injury. Black said they'll have to see how Pritchett responds to treatment this week to determine his playing status for a big week 8 showdown against Crawford (6-0).
“We've got to see where he's at this week,” Black said. “If he can't go, I've got to do a better job of putting my backup QB in positions he can be successful. I think that's what makes good coaching. You have to put your players in the best spot to succeed.”
Rio Vista rushed for 237 yards as a team and averaged 4.9 yards per carry despite their longest run of the night coming from 19 yards. Perez had four catches for 61 yards and two touchdowns to go along with the fumble return for a score and the clutch downed punt.