NEW PORT RICHEY — Quarterback play has been inconsistent the past 15 years at River Ridge, a big reason the team hasn’t made the playoffs since 1997.
In 2003, River Ridge nearly made the postseason, but the Royal Knights missed a game-winning field goal in a do-or-die district game.
However, the program’s most accomplished player, Ryan Benjamin, who won a Super Bowl with the 2002 Buccaneers, has brought promise as head coach of his alma mater.
And an impressive 43-0 victory over Fivay in the spring game led by quarterback Pat Mathieson, who went 7-of-7 for 216 yards and four touchdowns, rippled through Pasco County.
“(Mathieson) is definitely our most efficient passer we’ve had yet,” Benjamin said. “He knows where to pick his spots and he’s done a really good job for us. He’s a hard worker and his completion percentage shows that. He’s a leader on and off the field and that’s because he’s put in the work. All those things make him a leader by example.”
Mathieson wasn’t asked to throw the ball a lot in 2013, completing just 38 of 90 passes for 510 yards, but his smart play was impressive — he threw nine touchdowns and only four interceptions.
River Ridge’s offensive success came from tailback Ben Perdomo, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards, but now much more is expected of Mathieson.
“I just have to go into the season with the same confidence I had going into (the Fivay) game,” Mathieson said. “It was very exciting to have a big game like we did in the spring, but the pass game was all set up by the run.
“(The) main goal for this team is to win a district championship and to fall short of that is a failure. It would be the most amazing thing to ever happen to this group of seniors and this team if we could make the playoffs.”
No team made more of an impression during their spring game than the Royal Knights. If River Ridge can recreate that every Friday night, it surely will cause problems for opponents. Quarterback Pat Mathieson returns and looks impressive, plus throw in fullback Chris Schwarz and wide receiver Trevor Duke, and the offense is even more dangerous.
Unlike many of their Class 5A-District 7 foes, River Ridge returns many defensive starters and a ton of experience in the front seven. Dillon O’Toole improved over the summer after making 70 tackles last season, and Duke (111 tackles) and Schwarz (52 tackles) both come back to form one of the best defenses in Pasco County’s west side.
This could be the year River Ridge finally breaks its playoff drought. Though the program has been close to doing so previously, many key pieces are back to make it happen. Games against Gulf, Hudson and Ridgewood likely will prove to be the most crucial, as each is considered a contender for the 5A-7 title as well.
♦ About The Royal Knights
Stadium: Jim Valentine Athletic Complex, 11646 Town Center Road, New Port Richey
Class-District: 5A-7 (with Anclote, Gulf, Hudson, Ridgewood and Wesley Chapel)
Coach: Ryan Benjamin (12-18, fourth season)
Last season: 3-7
Aug. 29: Land O’ Lakes
Sept. 5: at Sunlake
Sept. 12: Wiregrass Ranch
Sept. 19: at Gulf
Sept. 26: at Mitchell
Oct. 3: Anclote
Oct. 17: Wesley Chapel
Oct. 24: Hudson
Oct. 31: at Ridgewood
Nov. 7: at Pasco