SMYRNA -- The Riverdale Warriors (5-4, 4-2) upset the Smyrna Bulldogs 23-20 in a hard-fought slugfest Friday night in the Kia of Murfreesboro Game of the Week.
"This is a really big win for us, for the program," an emotional Riverdale head coach Will Kriesky said. "These kids have busted their tails all year long and they deserve this. I'm proud of this football team tonight.
"There's a lot of history between these two teams. It was a good football game. I'm extremely excited for these kids. They have a lot of pride and always come to work Monday through Friday."
The Bulldogs (6-3, 4-2) got the ball in Warrior territory with 2:09 left in the game, but a fourth-and five pass attempt by Josh Turner from 30 yards out was broken up in the end zone by Riverdale's Gentry Bonds with under 30 seconds left, allowing the Warriors to kneel out the clock.
It was a defensive battle all night, with neither team reaching 270 yards in offense. It was an especially strong outing for the Riverdale defense, which held the high powered, dual-threat Bulldog offense to its lowest totals of the season, including holding MTSU commit Turner to under 100 yards passing.
"They (Riverdale) just outplayed us in all three areas," Smyrna head coach Matt Williams said. "At times they were more physical than us and field position really killed us. We didn't do a very good job on special teams. Kickoff coverage killed us, allowing them to start at midfield or past midfield multiple times."
"They made plays when we didn't. Credit to them, they beat us."
Smyrna scored on its first three possessions and forced Riverdale to punt on its first four possessions, carrying a 13-0 lead well into the second quarter.
Smyrna's first score was 23-yard field goal by Jose Baeza that capped a 13-play drive that took over six minutes off the clock.
Next, after a bad snap by Riverdale's punt team gave them the ball at the Warrior 15-yard line, the Bulldogs scored on a 9-yard run by Turner, pushing the lead to 10-0 with 2:58 left in the first quarter.
On Smyrna's next possession it was Baeza again, this time from 30 yards out to give the Bulldogs with the 13-0 advantage with 10:38 left in the second quarter.
After another Riverdale punt and a three-and-out for the Bulldogs, it was the Warriors this time cashing in on a bad snap by a Smyrna punt team, leaving them with a first and goal from the 9-yard line. Two plays later quarterback Christian Souffront ran in from five yards out for the first Riverdale touchdown with just under two minutes in the half.
A missed extra point left the score 13-6 Bulldogs going into halftime.
The Warriors carried that momentum in and out of the locker room after halftime with 16 unanswered points.
On its first possession of the third quarter, Riverdale marched down the field and scored on a 36-yard field goal by Conner Ott, closing the gap to 13-9 with 9:36 left in the quarter.
After a 37-yard kick return by Smyrna's Devin Sims left the Bulldogs with great field position and seemingly the momentum shift, Riverdale's Isaiah Stewart intercepted a Turner pass, giving the ball back to the heating Warrior offense.
Riverdale did capitalize on the turnover when Souffront found Jaylan Simmons in the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown strike, giving the Warriors their first lead of the game at 16-13 with 6:20 left in the third quarter.
Each team punted on their respective next possessions, but then Smyrna answered back with a touchdown from Turner to Nick Okeke for nine yards, which gave the lead back to the Bulldogs at 20-16.
However, Riverdale answered immediately with a scoring drive that ended with another Souffront score, this time a 22-yard run that gave his team the 23-20 lead with 9:36 left in the game.
The Bulldogs had three more possessions, all falling short despite their defense holding the Warrior offense the rest of the game.
The game had major playoff seeding implications, and each coach looked at that a little differently, yet also the same.
"We just need to come out and get better at practice Monday," said Williams, "That's what I'm worried about. We can't be worried about down the road. Everyone's asking me about (playoff) scenarios, but I don't care about that. I just want to pull together and get over this loss."
Added Kriesky: "This was a real big win as far as the playoffs go, but we still need to come back to work and get ready for (Cookeville) next week."
Smyrna wraps up the regular season on the road this Friday at region leader Oakland.