HUNTINGTON — Ground and pound.
Three words that the Huntington Highlanders lived by in a 35-22 season-opening win over Riverside on Friday night at Bob Sang Stadium.
The Highlanders started their season with a dominant first quarter over the visiting Warriors, rushing for 131 yards on 16 carries and three touchdowns in the first 12 minutes of the game.
After the Warriors' initial two drives ended in three-and-outs, Huntington's Devin Jackson broke open the scoring for the night with a 58-yard run on the first play of the drive to put the Highlanders ahead by a touchdown.
Huntington used that spark to hold the Warriors to a third three-and-out, forcing another punt which Huntington's Brocton Blair blocked at the Riverside 11-yard line. Diallo Mitchell logged his first of a two first-quarter scores and gave the home team a 14-0 lead with 4:32 left in the first before adding a 1-yard plunge to make it 21-0 after one quarter.
Riverside picked up the intensity in the second quarter, rebounding from crucial mistakes early on and keeping Huntington out of the end zone, scoring a pair of touchdowns to come within a score before the halftime break.
"Sometime when you jump on a team early like that, you let off the gas and that's what happened to us," Huntington coach Billy Seals said. "Special teams practically gave them two touchdowns. We've got to get better across the board. But hey, no coach is ever going to complain about being 1-0."
The Warriors' first score was set up perfectly by a long kickoff return from Griffin Key to the Highlanders' 15. Facing a 4th-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line, Quarterback Javante Elzy got his team on the board with a dive, bringing the score to 21-6 after a failed two-point conversion.
After the failed conversion, a scuffle broke out in the corner of the end zone, resulting in four unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, two of those handed to Riverside's Austin Chapman who was consequently ejected from the game.
Riverside's second score came when a blocked punt was returned for a score by Riverside's Dalton Mullens, bringing the Warriors within 21-14 after a successful two point conversion.
"That's something different that we've seen," Riverside coach Alex Daughtery said. "Sometimes we'd throw in the towel like when you give up those three quick scores and we'd be down in the dumps but we got up tonight. That's the positive from this evening."
The Highlanders continued to dictate the pace of the game by keeping the ball on the ground for the majority of the third quarter, highlighted by an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive that ended with Diallo Mitchell recording his third touchdown of the evening to give HHS a 28-14 lead.
Mitchell led the team in carries with 17 and finished with 73 yards and a trio of scores. Huntington's other two backs, Devin Jackson and Brocton Blair each had double digit carries and more than a hundred yards on the ground. That balanced attack kept the Warriors defense on edge all night.
"They can't focus on just one because they've got to worry about three of us back there. I got to give it to my line for the blocks but our three-headed attack is pretty good," Mitchell said. "Every one of us can run the ball, I was just lucky enough to carry it in the endzone a few time tonight.
"Those three guys. Played a lot of snaps tonight so we rolled with them," Seals said of the group. "We'll get the passing game going eventually but t's a work in progress right now. I thought Ta'Jhan (Blackwell) did a good job of running the offense out there."
RIVERSIDE 0 14 0 8 22
HUNTINGTON 21 0 14 0 35
H Jackson 58 run (Young kick)
H Mitchell 11 run (Young kick)
H Mitchell 1 run (Young kick)
R Elzy 1 run (Conversion failed)
R Mullins 1 yd return (Pierson 2 from Elzy, conversion successful)
H Mitchell 6 run (Young kick)
H Blair 50 run (Young kick)
R Easterling 24 run (Osborne 2 run, conversion successful)
Total yards 230 328
First downs 13 16
Rushes-yds 41-143 46 - 320
Comp-Att-Int 3-10 1-6
Passing yards 87 8
Penalties-Yds 4-18 8-42
Fumbles-Lost 3-2 1-1
RUSHING: RIVERSIDE Easterling 20-105, TD; Elzy 13-26, TD; Key 3-7; Pierson 3-minus 1. HUNTINGTON Jackson 12-144, TD; Blair 12-96, TD; Mitchell 17-73, 3 TD; Johnson 4-7; Blackwell 1-0
PASSING: RIVERSIDE Elzy 4-of-8, 87 yards; Easterling 0-of-1 HUNTINGTON Ta'Jhan Blackwell 1-of-5, 8 yards.
RECEIVING: RIVERSIDE Stephenson 1-50; Osborne 1-35; Easterling 1-2 HUNTINGTON Archer 1-8.