Rider entered tonight’s state semifinals game with vengeance on its mind. Aledo had won the state semifinal championship eight years in a row, with three of those victories coming at the expense of the Rider Raiders of Wichita Falls.
The Bearcats didn’t just win those three games. They mauled Rider by large margins. The last times these two teams met in 2018, the Raiders were a team filled with sophomores. The Raiders are all grown now, battle-tested warriors ready for redemption.
Aledo, the defending 5A state champs, have been on a quest to nab a record 10th title. They could do that at next Friday’s championship game. First, though, they’d need to knock out Rider.
The Raiders kicked off to start the game, and the Bearcats offense removed any doubt about whether they were amped up to play. They roared down the field in little time. Running back DeMarco Roberts scampered in from 23 yards out to put the Bearcats in lights first: 7-0.
The Aledo defense struggled at times during last week’s come-from-behind victory. How would they fare against a Rider offense on its opening drive led by powerful passer and runner Jacob Rodriguez, a senior who remembers well the beating of 2018?
Not so well.
Rodriguez led Rider straight to the end zone in eight plays and 78 yards to tie the score.
Aledo has relied on Roberts to rally its offense all year. He didn’t disappoint. The small but powerful Roberts bolted for 17 yards and made several other positive runs before the Bearcats stalled and faced a fourth and one. Roberts broke a tackle and used his familiar spin technique to move through defenders and gain two yards and a first down.
Three plays later, Aledo faced another fourth down and short. Rider stacked its line, preparing for another handoff to Roberts. Instead, JoJo Earle, who has been nursing a sore ankle, took a direct snap and ran 45 yards for a TD to increase Aledo’s lead to 14-7.
Aledo’s defense took the field with a sense of purpose. Defensive end Chris Wright sacked Rodriguez to force a punt, and Rider bobbled the snap. Aledo pounced on the pigskin, giving its offense a first and goal situation. Roberts scored on the next play from 10 yards out.
(Tonight’s game was played at Apogee Stadium at the University of North Texas – the school where Wright will play next year as a college freshman.)
Rider’s offense, despite its opening drive success, struggled against the Bearcats D again but managed to stretch the chains for a couple of first downs. Facing fourth and two from midfield, Rodriguez threw an 18-yard pass for a first down to keep Rider’s hopes alive.
The Bearcats defense woke up, forcing Rider into another fourth down. This time, Rodriguez couldn’t work his magic, and Aledo took a 21-7 lead into halftime.
Tim Buchanan, Aledo’s head coach, is known for making halftime adjustments and pumping up his team to dominate second halves. Rider’s offense, however, opened the second half by driving the length of the field and cutting Aledo’s lead to 21-14.
Aledo bounced back, moving the ball downfield on the back of Roberts, who found pay dirt on a six-yard run. After a missed point after attempt, Aledo led 27-14.
That missed PAT turned out to be no problem.
When Rider’s offense returned to the field, Wright knocked a ball loose from Rodriguez, and Aledo linebacker Keenan Hess recovered the ball in the end zone for a TD. Kicker Clay Murador made up for his missed PAT by pulling off a successful fake kick and sprinting into the end zone for a two-point conversion to make the score 35-14.
Aledo’s defensive line pressured Rodriguez on the ensuing possession, and defensive back Sammy Steffe picked off a pass, giving Aledo the ball at midfield. Roberts ran the ball several times and pushed his season total past the 2,000–yard mark, one of the reasons he was a popular recruit among Division I schools this fall.
Roberts ended the drive with a 14-yard TD run to seal the game.
The Raiders continued fighting and resisted being blown out as in previous match-ups with Aledo, but they were no match for the defending state champs.
Final score: Aledo 55, Rider 28.