Defense carries Riverdale past Shelbyville 13-6

Senior linebacker Elijah Herring and the Riverdale defense helped the Warriors to a 13-6 win over Shelbyville earlier this season. 

Will Kriesky wouldn’t mind if this turned into an annual occurrence.

The reality is, the high-level defense Riverdale has aligned this season occurs less frequently than that.

“This year it’s been really good for us. It’s not a typical defense,” he said. “We’re playing really well.”

After Kriesky’s hire in 2016, Riverdale allowed 24.4, 24.5, 13.4 and 14 points per game the next four seasons.

Opponents are averaging 4.8 this season against what have been dominant numbers from the Warriors (5-0, 2-0 Region 4-6A) ahead of Friday’s game against Smyrna (4-1, 2-0 Region 6-6A).

Tennessee commitment Elijah Herring and brother Caleb — a 6-foot 4, 197-pound four-star junior prospect — anchor the edges on a defensive front that has recorded 40 tackles for loss through five games.

And Kriesky can’t sing the praises of linebacker Alex Mitchell enough: The senior has emerged as one of the state’s overlooked prospects with a team-leading 37 tackles and 7.5 for loss. He’s also returned three interceptions for touchdowns.

“We had seven or eight of those guys back from last year, so it’s a senior heavy group,” Kriesky said. “This group went undefeated during their freshman season. Most moved up with us after their freshman season and played a lot on special teams. They’ve been in the program for a long time and bought all the way in.”

Elijah Herring came into the year with only football on his mind after ending his recruitment in April by committing to the Volunteers.

He knew what was in place and expected the defense to play well, he said.

“My expectation was to get turnovers, get a bunch of three-and-outs and get the offense back on the field as soon as possible,” Herring said. “Our communication has been like second nature. Any question we have we ask each other, and if we both don’t know the answer we go to the coaches. We watch a lot of film together and point stuff out because everybody sees something different.”

Herring believes he’s getting off the ball faster and doing more with his hands compared to last year.

“I think he’s just more physical,” Kriesky said. “He’s a student of the game. He’s always learning new moves and crafting his game to make it better.”

Caleb Herring is growing too after bursting onto the scene as a sophomore. His scholarship offers include Tennessee, Michigan, Arkansas and Kentucky

“He was a good football player for us last year,” Kriesky added, “but sometimes as you grow and mature you learn how to use your body, and being long and rangy like he is, he needed to do that. He really understands his position now this year.”

Kriesky is thankful for a deep cast up front.

Linebackers Malachi Common and Tomorrius Smith and defensive lineman Isaac Oglesby have stepped into bigger roles, he said.

It’s adding up to big negative yardage for opponents.

“Anytime you put those guys behind the chains, that really helps us put in good 2nd-and-long, 3rd-and-long situations,” Kriesky said. “In high school when a team’s behind the chains there’s a high percentage (for a pass). It helps us become more comfortable and aware of what’s coming.”

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