Three years ago, Riverside was a Harvard Cup laughingstock.
The Frontiers went 0-9. Opponents outscored them, 288-66.
Tired of being kicked around, they started the slow climb back to competitiveness, then respectability. Now they're playing for the championship.
The Frontiers were jubilant Saturday afternoon, reaching their first Harvard Cup final in a decade with a 27-8 victory over the McKinley Macks in the crisp autumn confines of All High Stadium.
The Frontiers (7-2) will meet Hutch-Tech in the historic Thanksgiving Day game. The Engineers spotted South Park an early touchdown yet knocked off the two-time defending champs, 8-6.
"All year long, we've been preaching to our team that to go all the way you gotta change from just a good team to a great team. Don't just be good; be great," said Frontiers coach Tony Truilizio.
"We had to prove to ourselves mentally that we could win these big games like this. This game we went over the hump. Now we gotta finish what we started."
Riverside won for the second straight week with backup quarterback Josh Covington, who made his first start last week after senior DiMario Caesar went down with an ankle injury. Covington completed 5 of 9 passes for 184 yards, including a 66-yard TD toss to Byron Corbett.
Covington the defensive back also intercepted a pass and returned a fumble 55 yards for a score that negated McKinley's fourth-quarter momentum.
"I can't even explain how good it feels," Covington said. "Everybody was doubting me for the last week, talking about, 'We ain't going to be too good without DiMario Caesar.' I feel like I proved everybody wrong."
McKinley (6-3) controlled the ground game. Chris Pratt ran 30 times for 207 yards and a touchdown.
But Riverside pounced almost every time McKinley passed. The Frontiers grabbed five interceptions. Macks quarterback Ken Szymanski completed only two passes for 18 yards.
Riverside backs Antwan Caesar and Robbie Comer each scored and rushed for 61 and 48 yards, respectively.
Describing the initial game of the day as smash-mouth would be an understatement. All of the scoring came within the first 19:44. Zack Rojek blocked a punt and returned it 40 yards to give South Park a first-quarter lead.
But Hutch-Tech (8-1) had the game's only offensive touchdown when quarterback Rodney Pierce's sweep around the right end from 7 yards out ended with a highlight-reel dive for the pylon from about 4 yards away. Sammy Smith tacked on the decisive conversion run.
The Engineers had only one first down the rest of the way, while the Sparks' first three second-half possessions were fumble, interception, fumble.
Pierce posted 50 yards passing and 34 yards rushing. South Park's Randy Calloway ran 22 times for 62 yards.
"It was a fight at the 50," Engineers coach David Backes said. "We just beat each other up, and I'm impressed with my soldiers. They stayed in there and they did what they had to do."