UNION – Gabe Savage is the top returning linebacker in Northern Kentucky this season and one of the best in all of Kentucky.
The Ryle senior made the biggest play of the game with the ball in his hands, however, getting a first down after a botched punt to help his Raiders run out the clock against their Union crosstown rivals Cooper Friday night.
Savage and the Raiders outlasted Cooper 14-7, beating their county rivals for the seventh straight time since 2016. Both teams left Cooper’s stadium with 2-1 records.
“They have a really good football team,” said Ryle head coach Mike Engler of Cooper. “They beat Dixie last week. They’re playing on their home turf. They have an experienced senior quarterback. We knew it was going to be a dogfight.”
Ryle won the defensive struggle, nursing a one-score lead at 8-0 for three quarters. They did so despite generating little offense against a stout Jaguars defense that had limited an explosive Dixie Heights team to 10 points and 200 yards in a 19-10 win over the Colonels last week.
Ryle put together its best drive late in the third, with sophomore quarterback Logan Verax completing several short passes on one-step drops, and the Raiders running uptempo. The drive stalled on a sack by Cooper on fourth down at its own 33 with 16 seconds to go in the quarter.
MORE: Live link to game results.
Cooper went three-and-out, and punted to Ryle at its 37, then the Raiders put together another strong possession. Ryle ran the ball with Savage, junior Lukas Colemire and Nathan Yowan on another strong drive. Cooper also helped with a key penalty.
Colemire, running the Wildcat formation at quarterback at times, converted a key fourth down. Verax ran in from 11 yards out with 8:35 to play, and Ryle led 14-0.
“I thought I could beat the guy running after me, but he’s a great player,” Verax said. “As soon as I pulled in, I saw Hunter Vaughn make a great block and I knew I was going to score.”
Cooper scored with 4:35 to play to cut the deficit to 14-7. Ryle went three-and-out and punted from its own 22.
Savage picked up the ball after a bad snap and ran for a first down past the 30. With more clutch runs from Colemire and Verax, the Raiders were able to run out the clock.
“I saw the snap was low, saw it land and came right to me, and I took it,” Savage said.
Defense gave Ryle the only score for either team in the first three quarters. Kaden Gardner intercepted a Cooper pass and returned it to the Cooper 21. The Raiders punched it in, as Colemire took the snap from the Wildcat and scored from one yard out. Savage ran it in for two, and Ryle led 8-0 early.
That 21-yard drive was Ryle’s longest of the first half. Meanwhile, Cooper answered with two great scoring opportunities, but the Jaguars hurt themselves with penalties and dropped passes.
Cooper converted a fourth-and-1 from the 12, with Brendon Tye running to the Ryle 5-yard line, but the play was called back by a holding penalty, and Ryle stopped the Jaguars on fourth down.
On Cooper’s next drive, Cooper had fourth-and-goal from the Ryle 1. Drew Warth tried to plunge in on a QB sneak, with almost all 22 players involved in a rugby scrum at the goal line. Ryle won the battle at the line, and stopped the Jaguars.
Ryle kept the Jaguars’ running attack, which had averaged 200 yards per game coming in, well under their average. Ryle is led by linebackers Savage and Jackson Belk.
“We play as a team and we finished when it mattered,” Savage said. “We communicated all night, we read our gaps and did our jobs.”
Said Engler: “We played disciplined football. We have two of the best linebackers in the state. We’re pretty good in the secondary. We were able to run man coverage some, and our guys just made plays when they had to make plays. When you have Jackson and Gabe back there, not many teams are going to run on us.”
Ryle generated most of its offense when it mattered, when the Raiders needed to hold on to the lead. The Cooper defense was a good teaching moment for Verax, who had his third start under center.
“I just got to do my job and trust my guys like I always do,” Verax said. “It was definitely a challenge but I trust my guys to make plays and do their jobs, and I did what I was supposed to do.”
“The first half, we just dropped balls,” Engler said. “It’s hard to get into a rhythm when you are either behind the chains or it’s second-and-10 or third-and-10 because you drop balls. In the second half, we caught all those balls and sustained drives. Even when we didn’t score, we still wore the defense down and kept our defense off the field. Our defense played great.”
Ryle will host Louisville DeSales next week while Cooper hosts another 6A team in Campbell County.
Ryle is in 6A with Dixie Heights, Simon Kenton and Campbell County.
Cooper has perennial archrivals and heavyweights Covington Catholic and Highlands in its 5A district, in addition to county rivals Conner and Boone County.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if they won that district,” Engler said. “They have a tough district, but they’re going to be in the running.”
Ryle 8 0 0 6-14
Cooper 0 0 0 7-7
R – Colemire 1 run (Savage run)
R – Verax 11 run (kick failed)
C – Tye 2 run (Warth kick)
Records: R 2-1, C 2-1.