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Meet the football team that snapped Riverbank High School’s 42-game losing streak

An offensive lineman turned fullback, a senior with two years of high school football experience and a third-year coach combined to make history Thursday night.

In its second game this season, the Riverbank football team traveled to Sacramento for a matchup against Valley High at Cosumnes River College. And for the first time since 2018, the team left the field winners, beating the Vikings 28-6.

The Bruins’ losing streak lasted 42 games. Their last win was Aug. 24, 2018. Five years to the day.

According to Cal-Hi Sports, the Bruins’ streak was the Sac-Joaquin Section’s longest active streak. It is second-longest losing streak in section history behind Bella Vista (48 games from 2015-2021).

“I really don’t know how to describe it,” head coach Joe Pirillo said. “I mean, eventually it was going to come. Now we’re just trying to focus on getting to the next one. And not letting something like this happen again.”

Riverbank threw just one pass attempt. It ran the newly implemented wing-T offense to perfection, producing 226 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns as a team.

Half of the yards came from Jeremiah Cooper, who played his first three years of high school football on the offensive line. When Pirillo introduced the new offense, it only made sense for him to move Cooper from the line to the backfield.

He is now the team’s leader in rushing yards. He followed a 96-yard season opener with 113 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.

“It was just a quick, easy decision to say, ‘OK, you’re going to fullback now,’ because he is athletic,” Pirillo said. “He’s got a lot of power and if you see any of his film, when he runs the ball if there’s somebody that’s right in front of him, he’s not going around, he’s going right through them. He’s gotten more pancake blocks running people over with the football than he has his entire o-line career.”

Kaydon Brawley is a senior lineman with less than two years of high school football experience. Pirillo said Brawley had screws inserted into a broken foot as a freshman and had not played since. This year, he has been a “terror” at defensive end and paves the way for the team’s top rushers.

Gabe Nisperos not only has the most rushing touchdowns on the team (4), he is the team’s leader and draws high praise from his head coach.

“Gabe Nisperos is the heart and soul of the team,” Pirillo said. “Every one of our guys would follow him into battle and he gets the job done on both sides.”

And then there is Pirillo, the former coach at Lathrop currently in his third season at Riverbank. He is not a fan of interviews, preferring to put all attention on his players.

“They’re the ones that go do the thing,” he said. “ I’m just happy to be a part of their lives.”

After trying different offensive schemes in his first two seasons, Pirillo this off-season implemented the wing-T offense.

“I wanted to go to a system that was not necessarily too easy, but at the same time can be installed quickly,” he said. “If somebody’s missing, you can fill in the spot quickly.”

The Bruins were knocking on victory’s door in Week 1. They led Millennium High of Tracy late in the fourth quarter but lost 14-12 after a last-second Falcons drive.

But that does not matter anymore. The past is the past and Riverbank is looking only ahead.

The football program is not attached to the grueling TVL this season after Riverbank was given approval from the league and the section to play an independent schedule as it attempts to build the program. Riverbank will play in the Mother Lode League next season in the first year of a new realignment cycle.

“We asked the section to go independent to gain some momentum going into next school year with realignment to gather the interest and for the kids to have a positive outlook on our football team,” Riverbank athletic director Juan Harvey said. “I think (the win) kind of started that.”

Pirillo said that after just two games this season, students are asking if it is too late to join the team.

“It’s getting the campus a little bit more excited.” he said.