CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Though shorthanded, Riverside seemed to have the right recipe for perhaps the biggest upset in recent Kanawha Valley history -- a no-nonsense, between-the-tackles running game that kept pounding the ball downfield and kept South Charleston's gamebreakers on the sideline.
Only one problem: The Warriors couldn't tackle well enough on defense, especially against A.D. Cunningham.
Cunningham pounded his way for a career-best 225 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries and tacked on a 39-yard scoring reception off a screen pass Friday night as SC broke away late for a 48-19 victory at frigid and slippery Warrior Stadium.
"I feel like we came out and went through the motions,'' Cunningham said, "and that ain't good. We always do that against teams [like Riverside], We always play down to our competition, and that's not good.''
The victory locked up a Class AAA playoff berth for the Black Eagles (7-2), who conclude the regular season next Friday at No. 1 Huntington (8-0).
However, the win was not as automatic as many felt it would be -- the underdog Warriors (1-8) trailed just 26-19 when junior Tyler Williams scored on a 5-yard run with 1:32 left in the third quarter.
Williams, who played despite the death of his mother earlier in the week, was part of young-bucks ground game the Warriors broke out on Friday due to injuries to their top two rushers -- seniors Will Jackson (knee) and Jacob Mullins (toe).
Freshman Chaeten Wilkinson (20 carries, 115 yards, one TD), sophomore Tajon Jones (six carries, 57 yards) and junior Lance Hudnall (15 carries, 63 yards) kept the chains moving and kept Riverside in the game for the longest time.
"That's why they play the game,'' said SC coach Donnie Mays. "They came to play and we didn't in the second quarter. That's about our worst quarter.
"We played pretty hard, but the field surface didn't help anything. It was hard to get traction and run our feet a little bit. We had kids complaining about stuff like that. We came to play, but we had mental errors and got a little sloppy at times.
"Our goal was to win and get in the playoffs, and that's what we did. We accomplished it, and we're happy about it.''
After Williams' TD, South Charleston seemed to right whatever was keeping it off balance. It took the Black Eagles only 55 seconds to zip downfield, getting a big chunk when Cunningham broke free for a 52-yard gain -- a play in which he fumbled in the open field, only to scoop up the ball on a clean bounce and keep going.
That ended in a 5-yard TD run by quarterback Kentre Grier to make it 32-19. The next two times SC gained possession, it moved 52 yards for a score -- the Grier-to-Cunningham screen pass -- and then salted it away with a 66-yard march capped by a 3-yard Chrisjamar Perkins run. Cunningham started that drive with a 21-yard burst.