Opponents of Southern High football know exactly what to expect when facing the Bulldawgs - a heavy dose of the run. Boasting a running back core that features All-County performer Rehvon Bryan, stopping the Southern High running game is easier said than done.
The Bulldawgs, behind four rushing touchdowns from Bryan, used a punishing ground game to edge South River, 25-24, on Friday. For Southern (2-0), the win reclaims the South County Championship trophy, which is awarded to the winner of the annual football contest.
"We all knew this was a rival game. We had to play hard and we had to do what we had to do. That's something Southern has always had," Bryan said. "I hope that we keep doing it to other teams because it works."
Bryan broke the deadlock after a one-yard plunge with 1:16 left in the first quarter. South River (1-1) struggled to get its offense going early turning the ball over twice.
"We turned the ball over from the first minute of the game. You can't do that against a team that runs the ball like that because you only get so many chances," South River coach Lance Clelland said. "They got us tonight."
The Seahawks would not be denied a trip to the scoreboard, as junior quarterback Connor Cox hooked up with wide receiver Mike Strange for a 56-yard score down the left sideline. Shifty running back Lavon Chaney then took a Southern punt 85 yards to the end zone, as South River led 12-6 at half.
"Lavon is an amazing athlete. He carries the team a lot of times on the offensive side of the ball," Clelland said. "If there is a better running back in the county, I haven't seen one."
Southern, who regularly lined up with three running backs in the backfield, levelled things in the third quarter after Bryan ripped off a 32-yard touchdown run. The bruising 215 lbs running back shed a number of tackles on his way to the end zone, as the two teams were now tied at 12.
Not to be outdone, Chaney ran passed the Southern defense on his way to a 66-yard touchdown reception. A botched extra point meant the Seahawks were now up 18-12. With 5:04 left in third quarter, neither team had yet to convert an extra point.
"It's killing us. I couldn't even kick a field goal. What's disappointing for my kicker is that he's very good in practice," Clelland said.
After another one-yard score by Bryan, and the games lone converted extra point, Southern took a 19-18 lead into the fourth quarter.
South River thought they had responded as Chaney scampered into the end zone, but a holding call negated the score. The Seahawks would eventually turn the ball over on downs.
Bryan saved his best run for late, this time taking off on a 68-yard touchdown run as the Bulldawgs took a 25-18 lead.
"It's no secret. He's a very good football player. He's a very good defensive lineman and he's a big load at fullback too," Southern coach Russ Meyers said. "He's a very important part of our football team,"
While Southern dominated the ground game, South River did find success through the air. A 26-yard touchdown pass from Cox to receiver Eric Young pulled the hosts back within one.
After Jordan Palumbo recovered a Southern fumble on the next series, it looked like momentum might carry the Seahawks to a comeback.
Chaney then had another touchdown called back after a holding penalty. The Southern defense held up deep in its own territory, eventually forcing Cox to fumble.
Holding Southern on its following drive, South River had one more chance to take the lead. But a Hail Mary pass was batted down and Southern had reclaimed the South County Championship.
"I feel great. This right here is big," Bryan said about the win. "Last year we lost to them at our home field [and] we got it back. I hope we keep that trophy for the rest of the Southern legacy."
Next Friday, South River will play its third straight home game, hosting Broadneck (1-1); while Southern will take on Chesapeake (0-2) at home.
"Any time you have a rivalry game it's tough [to lose]," Clelland said.
Notes: South River and Southern combined for eight touchdowns on Friday, only one extra point was completed. Cox has now thrown three touchdowns in two consecutive games. This is only the third year that the local rivals have had a trophy to play for. South River won the trophy in 2010 and Southern took it in its inaugural year.