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CHIPPEWA TWP., Pa. — Riverside entered Friday night’s game against Western Beaver in unfamiliar waters.
Unfamiliar because the game was a neutral-site matchup at Blackhawk (bonus points for anyone who can remember the last time Riverside played football at Blackhawk).
Unfamiliar because the Cougars are in their second year of a new stadium at the high school, so the Panthers have definitely never played on this field.
But more unfamiliar was the fact that the Panthers were winless through two games.
Coach Ron Sciarro coached the Panthers in the 1990’s and since coming back to the program four years ago, has led the team to great success.
Riverside advanced to the WPIAL semifinals before losing to Steel Valley in 2016 and 2017 and lost in the first-round of the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs last season.
So an 0-2 start put the Panthers’ playoff streak in some early season jeopardy. And with their backs against the wall, Riverside showed a lot in its 37-7 victory over Western Beaver.
There have been a few bugaboos for the team this season, number one of which was the turnover problem. Last week in a 31-30 loss to Freedom, the Panthers committed four turnovers and lost the turnover battle 4-1.
Riverside gained over 400 yards in the loss but couldn’t overcome the turnovers. Against Western Beaver, the Panthers outgained the Golden Beavers 343 to 146 and won the turnover battle, 2-0.
“We worked extremely hard in practice, we were all extremely tuned in,” said Riverside quarterback Ben Hughes. “We thought we were kind of out of focus the last few weeks. This week we hit it hard all week preparing for this team. I think we played pretty well.”
Hughes said the team simply wasn’t clicking in losses to Neshannock and Freedom, but righted a lot of things against Western Beaver. Hughes passed for three touchdowns in the win, all to senior Nate Sciarro and the Panthers got a big night on the ground from running back Hunter Nulph, who scored two touchdowns of his own.
Riverside scored on their first possession, but found themselves down 7-6 late in the first quarter. The Panthers went on to score the next 30 points, giving the team its first Midwestern Conference win.
“Our offense is very dangerous, I believe,” said Hughes. “Our line is doing a tremendous job, a lot of the guys it’s their first time playing varsity. But we had everything clicking tonight.”
“They had good practices,” said Ron Sciarro. “We still need to get better, they know it. But we’ll take it one week at a time.”
More importantly, the Panthers allowed just seven points — a big improvement from weeks one and two where the team allowed 54 and 31 points. Nate Sciarro had one interception and had his hands on a few more while the Riverside front seven was in the backfield all night.
“I think they’re settling down, not giving up the big play, that’s what was killing us,” Ron Sciarro said.
Friday, the big plays were killing Western Beaver who was behind the eight-ball from the start with five starters out (four to illness and one to injury). The Friday the 13th full harvest moon was a bad omen for the Golden Beavers, who committed a myriad of turnovers, dropped fourth-down passes and had possible interceptions tip off their fingers right into the hands of Riverside players.
“We had some missed opportunities, some missed assignments, but at the end of the day we didn’t do what we needed to do,” said first-year coach Derek Moye.
Western Beaver’s record dropped to 2-2, but more importantly 0-2 in conference play.
“It’s never a good thing to get beat like this,” said Moye. “And I told the guys after the game, this is not something I’m use to, and it’s not something I plan on getting used to, losing a football game like that.”
Without a great team in the conference – at least through a few weeks – Riverside feels it is right where it needs to be to make a run at a conference title and possibly another deep playoff run.
“We knew coming into the year this conference it was going to be a tough game every week,” Ron Sciarro said. “It was tough against Neshannock it was tough against Freedom, from here on out, every game we have to come out and give it our all. Our coach says every week is a meat grinder, so we need to come out hard and prepare hard every single week.”
“They got a taste of winning, hopefully they liked it.”
NOTES FROM THE PRESS BOX
By NATE BELL
“Ben Hughes to Nathan Sciarro” was heard about 100 times Friday night at Blackhawk High School. The duo connected for three touchdowns and a number of other hook-ups.
“[Our duo] has been fantastic,” said Sciarro. “Our connection is really good off the field as well.”
Sciarro also had an interception for the Panthers and had another one fall right through his hands. That was the most disappointing part of Sciarro’s night, and probably his only drop.
“That’s a catch I usually make,” said Sciarro. “That was a misjudgment on my part.”
Sciarro ended his night with nine catches, 155 yards, and three touchdown grabs from Hughes. Nathan Sciarro is the grandson of Riverside head coach Ron Sciarro. Nathan lived in Chicago just two years ago and came back to finish out his junior and senior year with the Panthers.
“It’s good … He’s making some plays,” said Ron Sciarro. “He played soccer up until eighth grade … and that’s where he learned to kick.”
Scairro also had four touchbacks on kickoffs and made three extra points for the Panthers kicking game. He is one of the Panthers’ main guys on the defensive side of the ball, as well.
“He was good last year and even better this year,” said Ron Sciarro.
Hughes Continues Stellar Career
Hughes, Riverside’s senior quarterback, has had himself quite a career in his first three seasons for the Panthers. In the early stages of his senior year, he is continuing his stellar campaign.
With Riverside losing their first two games of the season, their backs were against the wall in their match up Friday night against Western Beaver. Hughes had a solid night for the Panthers. He threw for 169 yards and three touchdowns.
Hughes was comfortable all night. He threw for three touchdowns in a 30-7 win. “Obviously, we played well, it showed on the scoreboard,” said Hughes. “We still made too many mistakes.” The senior is mature beyond his years and it shows by the way he demands more from himself and his team after a quality conference win.
Hughes is nearing 50 touchdowns for his career and it’s not a surprise to anyone that Ben has had this type of success. “I’ve just gotten better and better each year,” Hughes said. “I’ve worked all off-season trying to get better.”
Ron Sciarro knows what a luxury it is to have a four-year starter leading your team.
“It’s really great,” he said. “It’s like having another coach on the field. He knows every position and what they are supposed to do … Not just on offense, on defense too.
“He’s a freshman!”
Sophomore Thad Gray started the first half at quarterback for Western Beaver and helped facilitate the only touchdown of the game for the Golden Bears.
However, the offense stalled and couldn’t catch any momentum after the first quarter. Head coach Derek Moye changed it up to start the second half and let freshman Zander Lefebvre take over at quarterback.
Last week against Shenango, Lefebvre threw for 36 yards in the air, rushed for 41 yards, and caught a touchdown at receiver. The freshman came in against Riverside and gave a heck of an effort for only his third high school game. Running the ball from the quarterback position was still his strong suit.
“He’s a very good all-around athlete,” said Moye “We feel like he has a very bright future … Whether it’s at quarterback or running back.”
Western Beaver has more talent than they have had in the last few years, but the difficult part is making it all work come Friday night.
“It’s all about what works for us.” Moye said. “In the second half [Lefebvre] he could potentially give us a spark.”
He struggled passing against the Riverside defense, however, only throwing for 14 yards on 2 of 8 attempts. Moye is comfortable with just letting the freshman just ease into whatever role he ends up taking on for this Western Beaver team.
“He has so much versatility and he’s such a smart kid,” said Moye.”
With the NFL celebrating their 100th year, they are trying to give back to youth football and the community. Each team selected a high school football game to send players and alumni to before their home opener and Western Beaver and Riverside was the game that the Steelers chose to attend. The choice might have had something to do with Moye being a former Steelers wide receiver.
Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes and current offensive tackle Zach Banner were in attendance at Blackhawk Friday night. They went out with the captains for the coin toss to start the game. As the game went on, they each went over and interacted with students from each student section. They took pictures and signed some autographs.
The Steelers also had minicamp available before the game for some of the local kids to participate in. Overall, it was a great experience for the community, and they were appreciative of the Steelers efforts.