UPPER MARLBORO – In its home opener, the Riverdale Baptist High School football team found itself in an unfavorable situation with time slipping away. Then appeared Jalen Bonds, Riverdale Baptist’s third-string quarterback, who delivered just when his team needed him.
With the Crusaders falling into a three-touchdown deficit, Bonds entered the game about midway through the third quarter and finished with 93 yards passing on 7 of 14 completions for two touchdowns, along with the game-clinching rushing touchdown to lead his team to a heroic 30-24 comeback home win over Royalty Institute on Aug. 30.
“I knew we had prepared a long time; a lot of conditioning and a lot of hard work. And I knew Coach (LaMont Jordon) had prepared us for this moment,” Bonds said.“We just came together as a team and made sure that we stayed together, didn’t point any fingers. At the end of the day, we’re a family so we just stayed as a family.”
Riverdale Baptist (1-1) notched the huge bounce-back win after opening the season with a 47-18 loss at Gilman (Baltimore). Bonds, a 5-foot-10 junior, came in following an injury to backup Sean Johnsson. According to Bonds, the win was also aided by the coaching staff for preparing and making necessary adjustments to help Riverdale Baptist to the win.
“Like I always tell my guys: ‘you may not get a lot of reps in practice, but when you get your opportunity, what you do with it is going to dictate what’s going to happen,’” First-year Head Coach LaMont Jordan said. “And Jalen did a great job of being ready. He made some great throws and the guys just did a great job of executing in the second half.”
Riverdale Baptist’s Malachai McLaughlin also contributed to the win. The junior wide receiver recorded four receptions for 102 yards and three second-half touchdowns.
The Crusaders began the evening with a touchdown on a 39-yard pass from starting quarterback Jontae Davis to receiver Melvin Jacobs with 8:43 remaining in the first quarter. After a failed two-point conversion, it was Riverdale Baptist’s only scoring play until late in the third.
Royalty Institute battled back thanks to quarterback Tajon Fox, who was responsible for three of his team’s four touchdowns. He went 12 for 29 to amass 124 yards passing for two touchdowns. He also scored an additional rushing touchdown along with his 12 carries for 47 yards on the ground.
The junior showed toughness and mobility in the pocket, throwing touchdown passes to Damari Graham from three yards out and a 10-yard pass to Xavier Weaver. Fox also rushed for a one-yard score to close the first quarter while safety Devonte Berkley scored on a 33-yard interception return to give the Kings a comfortable 24-6 lead at the half.
“When it’s crunch time, play as a team, a unit; don’t give up,” Fox said.
However, they went scoreless in the second half, committed three costly turnovers and could not find a way to respond to the Crusaders’ four unanswered touchdowns.
To keep the Crusaders’ chances alive, Bonds connected with McLaughlin for scoring plays on back-to-back drives: one coming on a 63-yard pass with 3:29 left in the third and the other on a 10-yard pass with about 1:45 left in the third. To tie the game, McLaughlin scored again on a trick play as he broke loose from defenders to receive a 45-yard pass from Jacobs with a little less than seven minutes to go in the fourth.
With the score tied 24-24 at the end of regulation, the game went into overtime. Riverdale Baptist won the coin toss and chose to receive the ball first. On the opening play, Bonds received the ball and ran behind running back Andre Wright Jr. for the 10-yard game-clinching score.
“Coach (Jordan) drew that up in practice this week. So we already knew how to block it, what to do, and my running back, Andre, told me just to follow behind him and that’s what I did,” Bonds said of the game-clinching play.
A superb defensive effort from the Crusaders followed after Bonds’ touchdown. The Kings were unable to move the ball forward in four plays, ending the drive with a sack to seal the win for Riverdale Baptist.
“I couldn’t have been more proud of these guys for the way they fought back,” Jordan said, who played in the NFL and coached in the Alliance of American Football. “Nobody ever gave up and at the end of the day, we win the game 30-24,”
For Royalty Institute, which just opened in July this year, the Kings (0-1) did not do too bad considering it was their first-ever game, said Head Coach Cornell Wade. According to Wade, who is also the founder of the Institute, the team’s lack of depth caused fatigue for many of their players who had to play on both ends of the field.
Despite the disappointing loss, Wade expressed how proud he was of their overall effort.
“We got 18 kids. At the end of the day, we got 18, so we know we got to bring iron man football. We wore down, so as a coaching staff, we gotta do a better job of keeping them healthy,” Wade said. “We’re small. We’re small as far as numbers so for us it wasn’t so much what Riverdale did; it’s what we weren’t able to do in the second half.”
Riverdale Baptist will head to Bishop McNamara on Sept. 7 at 2 p.m. for its next game while Royalty Institute will take on National Christian Academy also on Sept. 7.