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Football: Central stymied on offense again in loss to River Ridge

WOODSTOCK – Midway through the fourth quarter of Friday's contest with Forsyth Central, things looked dire for River Ridge. Two-way player Chris Long turned things around and led the Knights to a 7-0 victory.

River Ridge was losing ground as Central was driving deep into their territory, starting quarterback Gino Portera had already gone down with a leg injury, and the game was scoreless. With less than six minutes on the clock and Central facing a 2nd-and-9 at the 10-yard line, Long intercepted a pass in the corner of the end zone, preserving the scoreless tie.

Eleven plays later, Long was still in the game at quarterback for the injured Portera, and he rushed 36 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown with 1:20 left on the clock, the game's first and only score.

"I had full confidence in my team, always" said Long, who rushed for 47 yards on eight carries. "We knew it was going to be a tight game to the end, and we just needed our big players to step up, and that's what we did tonight."

Portera left the game on a medical cart in the third quarter after injuring his knee on a 3rd down play inside the 10-yard line. Following the injury and a penalty, River Ridge attempted a 27-yard field goal that went wide left, leaving the score at 0-0. Portera carried the ball 12 times for 28 yards and completed one pass for 16 yards in a defensive game.

Central quarterback Brad Thiltgen went 8-for-23 passing for 75 yards, most of which came on the final possession of the game. After Long's touchdown, Central started at their own 30-yard line with just over a minute to play, and Thiltgen moved the Bulldogs down the field with completions of 22, 9, and 24 yards. Ultimately, Central failed to convert on 4th-and-14 at the River Ridge 32-yard line, effectively ending the game with just seconds remaining.

Thiltgen was intercepted three times by River Ridge, the turnovers forced by Long, Andrew Herring, and Chris Bethea.

River Ridge has now started a season 3-0 for the first time since 2011, and coach Tyler Wynn believes his group is enjoying the fruits of months of labor.

When asked what the critical moment in Friday's game was, Wynn said: "January 5th. Whenever we came back to school after the break, we got with the guys who were going to be seniors on this team this season. We set some goals for ourselves and talked about things we were going to do differently. This is the culmination of hard work, scratching and clawing and working their tails off."

After Long's interception, Wynn had faith in his team's ability to win the game on the following possession.

"You can't control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond" Wynn said. "I asked them to respond (to Portera's injury) and we put it on our offensive line to take us to the house. And they did it."

Forsyth Central will travel to Meadowcreek next Friday, still in search of their first win of the season. Coach Frank Hepler gave credit to the Knights for gutting out the low-scoring win.

"River Ridge played a great game and did a great job," Hepler said. "They outcoached us and their kids played very hard, I'm very impressed with them. I told our kids we needed to match their intensity, and we did, but they did a great job."