Blue Ridge has been in the championship spotlight a lot. River Valley never has. Blue Ridge has won 15 titles and finished second in nine others. River Valley hopes to make its first title game appearance on Saturday (Nov. 30) count.
This D-IV title matchup shapes up as a battle between hard-hitting teams that love to run. Blue Ridge (11-2) took care of Monument Valley and Coolidge in the first two rounds with ease. River Valley did the same vs. Page and then served notice of its ability to doubters by upsetting No. 3 seed Snowflake on the Lobos' home turf, 28-14.
Blue Ridge, coached by legendary Paul Moro, avenged a loss in mid-October to top-seed Show Low to reach the final. The Yellow Jackets did so with ball control, defense and two touchdown passes in a 14-7 victory. Blue Ridge is run first, but picks its spots to throw. The Yellow Jackets can be lethal with those. Its game-winning score vs. Show Low came on a perfectly executed screen pass early in the fourth quarter. River Valley does not throw much either and not with the success Blue Ridge has when it does. Both teams average 10 to 12 pass attempts per game.
River Valley's season? The Dust Devils, mentored by fourth-year coach Terry Staggs, suffered their only loss in week 4 to D-V title participant Yuma Catholic (21-17). River Valley has pitched five shutouts. It dominated Seton, 43-12, in its semifinal against the defending division champion Sentinels. The defense came up with a couple turnovers and ran the ball at will.
So who makes these teams go? For Blue Ridge its multiple folks. Sennior Chris Johnson is the mainstay, rushing for 1,224 yards and 18 touchdowns. Nolan Cook and Nathan Miles have combined for 1,100 additional yards and 17 TDs. Junior quarterback Spencer Hall runs the offense. He's connected on better than 70 percent of his passes for 1,790 yards and 17 TDs. His favorite target by far is wide out Brennan Schimmel — 43 receptions for 912 yards and five TDs. Schimmel caught one of the TD passes in the semfinal win and Miles hauled in the screen pass for the winning tally.
For River Valley, the standout is junior running back Brandon Long. Long is stocky and powerful. He's tough to bring down and has a surprising extra gear when he breaks the point of attack. Long rushed for 276 yards and four TDs in the Dust Devils' win over Seton. That boosted his rushing total for the year to 2,204 yards and 32 TDs Teammate Andreas Galvez has added 823 yards, 10 TDs and quarterback Derek Advocate 623 yards, 9 TDs. Long is also River Valley's top receivers with 17 receptions for 327 yards.
These schools have met a couple times in postseason in the last decade. The most recent came in last year's quarterfinals with Blue Ridge winning convincingly, 49-0. Both defenses have been stout the last half-dozen game in points allowed. Blue Ridge has not allowed more than seven points in each of its last five games after surrending 38 to Show Low in October. River Valley gave up 14 and 12 points, respectively, in its last two games against two of the top teams in D-IV..