Sledge throws 4 TDs, Riverside holds off Orange 28-26

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Updated: September 21, 2019

From 2013-to-2017, the Orange football team won 24 consecutive non-conference games. Five of them were against Riverside.

After a 3-8 season in 2018, Orange has lost nine of its last ten nonconference games. Not only that, but shortly after walking into Linny Wrenn Stadium in Durham, they felt something that an Orange team hadn’t felt in a long time.

The feeling of being overlooked. And maybe a hint of disrespect.

After a decade largely spent as a sleeping giant, Riverside has become the hottest team in Durham. Four days after the Pirates defeated Orange last November, the Pirates topped Jordan to win the Triangle 8 Championship, its first since 2002.

Coming off its first win over Northern Durham since 2013, Riverside’s noncoference finale against Orange received enough votes from local high school fans as one media outlet’s game of the week.

The days of Orange’s three consecutive Big 8 Championships from 2015-17 seemed to have faded from the memories of local journalists and fans, many of whom treated the Panthers as an afterthought in Friday’s game. Especially compared to Riverside’s 3-1 start where they averaged 40 points per game.

That wasn’t lost on Orange’s coaches in the days leading up to Friday night’s game, and certainly not in the moments before kickoff. And while the final result wasn’t precisely to Orange’s liking, it led to easily the most inspired Panther effort of the season.

In the end, Riverside junior quarterback Landin Sledge threw for four touchdowns and 286 yards as the Pirates defeated Orange 28-26 at Wrenn Stadium in Durham. Sledge’s 12-yard touchdown to Quentin Freeman early in the fourth quarter was the game-winner as the Pirates (3-1) won its nonconference finale.

Sledge, a junior, now has 21 touchdowns against only two interceptions this season. In all five of Riverside’s games, he has at least four touchdown passes (he had five against Person).

Orange (1-3) got a late touchdown pass from Wyatt Jones to Daniel Champion, which came after deliberations by the officials that lasted in excess of one minute. Nigel Slanker’s extra point cut Orange’s deficit to 28-26, but the subsequent onside kick went out of bounds with :14 remaining.

After watching his defense hold Riverside to a season-low 285 yards (including minus-1 yard rushing), Orange coach Van Smith appeared more eager to play another four quarters instead of content to call it a night. His postgame interview lacked the fervor of your average Ric Flair promo from the 1980s, but only slightly.

“When I walked up to this stadium tonight, nobody gave us a chance to win this football game tonight,” Smith said, firing off his words at the pace of a machine gun. “If they want to strap up again and play tomorrow, I’m ready right now. I’m so dadgum excited how far we’ve come in a few weeks, I’m ready to play again tomorrow if we have to.”

Orange succeeded in taking away Riverside’s running game in the first half. Pirates running back Dante McCall, who averaged 86 rushing yards per game, was held to a season low four yards. By Riverside’s final drive of the second half, they eschewed running plays out of a standard spread set and simply employed Sledge out of an empty backfield with five wide receivers for most of the rest of the game.

It worked. After falling behind 13-6 late in the first half, Riverside scored back-to-back touchdowns to lead the rest of the way. On their final possession of the first half, Riverside went 71 yards in four plays. Sledge hit Cory Jones for a 23-yard touchdown pass, then found Isiah Jones for the two-point play to put the Pirates head 14-13 going into the locker room.

In a chippy game where the two teams combined for 240 penalty yards, Sledge found Cory Jones for a 60-yard gain on 2nd-and-13 after a holding penalty backed the Pirates up. Following three straight incompletions, Sledge hit Isaiah Jones for a 15-yard touchdown on 4th-and-10. Caleb Bowers extra point put Riverside ahead 21-13.

Orange’s defense, which forced four turnovers in its win over Williams last week, forced three more on Friday, leading to 14 points. Late in the third quarter, senior defensive end James McAdoo recovered a fumble after a botched Riverside snap.

“I thought James McAdoo had a motor that didn’t stop,” Smith said. “It was his second game this season and he wouldn’t quit. I think that has been missing.”

Senior Machai Holt ran around right end for his third touchdown of the season. Orange attempted to tie the game, but Wyatt Jones’s pass to Zyon Pettiford was wide.

Sledge found Freeman for the game-winning score on the next drive.

“It was like playing a freaking all-star team” Smith said of Riverside. “Good gracious. They had a 6-foot-5 receiver lining up against my 5-foot-6 cornerback. That means something.”

Riverside opened with a 12-play, 67-yard drive that took 5:47 off the first quarter clock. Sledge found Isaiah Jones for a 26-yard gain to break into the Orange red zone. Consecutive stops by Orange’s Khaleb Smith and Caulin Fransler forced a 4th-and-goal from the three, when Sledge found Isaiah Jones again for a 3-yard score.

Orange, on its first possession of the game, took up the rest of the first quarter clock with a 12-play, 52-yard drive, which was kept alive after Riverside was called for roughing the passer on 4th-and-6. Slanker kicked a 30-yard field goal to mow the Pirate lead in half.

The Panthers won a battle of field position to even the game in the second quarter. Following a Riverside punt that was nearly blocked, Holt ran around right tackle for ten yards. It ended when Slanker kicked a 33-yard field goal.

On the next Riverside drive, McAdoo stripped the ball away from Sledge, and Orange’s Will Torain pounced on the loose ball.

On a third-and-goal, Holt followed the blocks of Juan Navarro and Robert Bray into the end zone to give Orange its only lead of the night late in the second quarter.

For the second week in a row, Orange couldn’t continue drives when its defense gave them opportunities. The Panthers were 3-of-13 on 3rd downs after going 3-of-12 in the Williams’ win.

As Orange ventures into its Big 8 opener against East Chapel Hill next Friday, time will tell if the emotion of Friday night was a one-night stand or something that can propel Orange to its glory days that may not be as far in the rear view mirror as some would believe.

RIVERSIDE 28, ORANGE 26

RIV–Isaiah Jones 12 pass from Landin Sledge (kick blocked)

ORA-Nigel Slanker 30 FG

ORA-Slanker 33 FG

ORA-Machai Holt 2 TD (Slanker kick)

RIV-Troy Jones 23 pass from Sledge (Sledge to I. Jones)

RIV-I. Jones 13 pass from Sledge (Caleb Bowers kick)

ORA-Holt 1 run (pass failed)

RIV-Quinton Freeman 12 pass from Sledge (Bowers kick)

ORA-Daniel Champion 20 pass from Wyatt Jones (Slanker kick)

RUSHING: Riverside 19-(-1 yard) (Sledge 7-8, Dante McCall 7-4, Devin Smith 2-(minus 2), fumble 2-(minus-10), team 1-(minus 1)

ORANGE: 36-116 2 TD (Omarion Lewis 13-55, Holt 13-46 2 TD, Jones 2-9, Elliott Woods 4-6, Jake DeFranco 1-1)

PASSING: RIVERSIDE (Sledge 18-24 286 yards 4 TD, INT)

ORANGE: (Jones 10-25 156 TD, INT)

RECEIVING: RIVERSIDE (I. Jones 7-110 2 TD, Freeman 6-62 TD, Smith 3-31, T. Jones 2-83 TD)

ORANGE: (Holt 3-45, DeFranco 2-63, Woods 2-9, Champion 1-10 TD, Zyon Pettiford 1-14, Khaleb Smith 1-8)

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