Led by returning offensive line, Riverside to rely on ground game

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Friday, August 28, 2020 | 11:16 PM


The Riverside Panthers shocked the WPIAL last season when they made a surprising run through the Class 2A playoffs.

They started their playoff run by defeating undefeated No. 3 Burgettstown, 42-35. They then took their season one step further with a 41-27 win over McGuffey in the quarterfinals. Riverside’s run came to an end when it faced eventual WPIAL champion and PIAA runner-up Avonworth in the semifinals.

It was a special season that included a six-game winning streak and wins in eight of the final 10 games. After only losing five seniors to graduation, the Panthers could be in position to make another one this year.

“Our whole line is back. All of our backs are back. We just have to fill a few holes,” coach Ron Sciarro said. “One of those holes is quarterback, and then we are just hoping we play better defense because we have a bunch of guys back on defense. So, that’s the goal: play defense and run the football.”

Replacing quarterback Ben Hughes will be a difficult task as he started for the past three seasons and threw for 2,237 yards and 30 touchdowns last year.

It looks like the quarterback duties at Riverside will stay in the Hughes family as Sciarro expects either Ben’s brother, Sam, or Ben’s cousin, Calvin, to take over the position this season.

Sam will be entering his sophomore season, while Calvin will be entering his senior season. Whoever wins the quarterback battle will have a lot of talent surrounding him. The Panthers also expect to take advantage of the experience they gained last season.

“That was big, especially for our (seniors),” senior lineman Payne Hoover said. “It’s something we have to get used to. Freshman year we made the playoffs, sophomore we lost in the first round, so to do that, we have to set it up for our senior year and go all the way and set up a winning tradition for the younger kids.”

After being a primarily run-based offense for several years, the Panthers switched their focus to the pass last year, but that change won’t last for long. In 2020, Riverside’s ground game will lead the way as they return their entire offensive line and senior running back Hunter Nulph, who rushed for 1,311 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.

Dante Phillips and Calvin Hughes also saw time in the backfield last year and will contribute again. No matter who is in the backfield, Hoover and the line are ready to pave the way.

“We hit the weights hard during quarantine and we have it on our mind that we are going to run the ball down your throat all four quarters and you aren’t going to stop us,” Hoover said.

Sciarro is looking for his team to improve on the defensive side as well.

The Panthers scored a Midwestern Athletic Conference-high 34.5 points per game last season, but they also allowed 27.3 points per game, which was the second-highest total behind winless Ellwood City.

“We gave up too many yards and too many points last season,” Sciarro said. “So we have to get better.”

Schedule

Coach: Ron Sciarro

2019 record: 8-4, 4-3 in Class 2A Midwestern Athletic Conference

All-time record: 280-229-4

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, Beaver Falls*, 7

9.18, Freedom*, 7

9.25, at Laurel*, 7

10.2, Mohawk*, 7

10.9, Neshannock*, 7

10.16, at Ellwood City*, 7

10.23, at New Brighton*, 7

*Class 2A Midwestern Athletic Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Ben Hughes*

109-171, 2,237 yards, 30 TDs

Receiving: Nate Sciarro*

67-1,192 yards, 21 TDs

Rushing: Hunter Nulph

189-1,311 yards, 12 TDs

*Graduated

Fast facts

• Coach Ron Sciarro’s grandson, Nate Sciarro, was clutch for Riverside last season as he caught 67 passes for 1,192 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also handled kicking duties and converted 39 extra points and four field goals.

• Although they will focus on their running game, the Panthers also have to replace Nate Sciarro and Josh Bishop at wide receiver, who combined for 2,111 receiving yards last season.

• Calvin Hughes ran for 345 yards and three touchdowns last season.

• Riverside was one of two teams in the WPIAL last year to have a 2,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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