One by one the Riverside High School football players lined up to get their pictures taken with Greenville Christian School star quarterback DJ Smith.
The Bulldogs had just fallen 44-0 Friday. They had played Goliath, a team ranked No. 1 in the state, and had tried their best. It was all anyone could ask.
“If feels good playing all those players that are going to make it big. They are helping me too,” said Riverside defensive end Johnny Williams. “I give them respect. I give No. 10 (DJ Smith) my respect. That is a good man and that is a a good quarterback. I came and did what I wanted to. I got a couple of licks on him.”
Riverside head coach Jim Risen said he was proud of his team’s fight. GCS jumped out to a 38-0 lead in the first half, but the Saints were unable to score in the third quarter. The Bulldogs even had one shining moment when quarterback Jason Irion hit Otis Williams on a 50-yard pass late in the third quarter.
“This game helped our kids to gain a lot of courage and a lot of integrity,” Riverside coach Jim Risen said. Coach McLendon over there has a lot of class, and he has a great team. We played the No. 1 overall team in the state and the No. 58 team in the nation. That says a lot for my kids because my kids never gave up, and they gave it all they had.”
On the other end of the field, Greenville Christian (4-1) coach Jon Reed McLendon said he was pleased with his team’s overall effort.
After a brutal early schedule, Friday’s victory allowed McLendon to rest his starters in the second half. Last Friday, in their victory over top-ranked Oak Grove, the Saints left Hattiesburg with both a victory and plenty of banged up players.
The Saints are scheduled to take on another Mississippi heavyweight when they travel to Jackson Academy next Friday.
“It was a nice to get some young guys in and give them a chance to play,” McLendon said. “Oak Grove was real physical and we were kind of banged up and we needed a night where we didn’t have to play all our guys for four quarters.”
Greenville Christian’s Marlon Palmer opened up the game by returning the opening kick 75 yards for a touchdown. GCS quarterback DJ Smith, who threw four touchdowns, then hit Josh Martin on a 17-yard score to make it 14-0 with 9:02 left in the first quarter. Smith’s touchdown throw to KD Rancifer put GCS up 22-0 with five minutes left in the first quarter. Smith’s third touchdown score went to Will Riley, who made nice spin move on the play, from 30 yards out.
Palmer would score another touchdown on a 40-yard pass from Smith. In this score, Palmer barreled over three Bulldog players for his final 10 yards.
McLendon added that he was not just proud of how his team has played to garner so much attention, but that he is more proud with how they have handled themselves.
“We have a special group and we try to encourage them to have great character,” McLendon said. “We want to us use our platform to make an impact on other people.”