LAURINBURG — The Richmond junior varsity football team finished the regular season in a three-team split for the Sandhills Athletic Conference championship on Thursday.
Unable to overcome a late-game deficit and make the necessary plays, according to head coach Ryan Mercer, the JV Raiders lost to rival Scotland High School 22-14.
Had Richmond earned the victory, it would have been crowned the outright champion. Instead, the JV Raiders shared the conference title with Scotland and Pinecrest High School, all of which finished 5-1 in SAC play.
“There was a lot of fight from our kids tonight, a lot of whom were put behind the eight ball all season,” Mercer said. “We were down four starters on defense, but that’s no excuse.
“These guys battled and gave me everything they had,” he added. “I told the team after the game I didn’t see anyone who didn’t give 110% tonight. “
Scotland got on the board first, scoring on a Dominic Blue 6-yard run, to go up 6-0.
Going for two, freshman Jordan Hamilton and sophomore Gage Stewart stacked up Blue in the backfield to thwart the conversion attempt with 2:26 left in the first quarter.
Richmond’s lone first-half score came with 3:49 left in the second quarter. Capping a 9-play, 85-yard drive, freshman quarterback Evan Hodges plunged in from a yard out.
Setting up the score was a one-handed grab by sophomore wide receiver Nicholas Griggs, who cradled a 43-yard reception to move into the red zone.
Running the ball on four straight plays, Hodges capitalized on a fourth-and-goal play to tie the game. Freshman Jake Veach added the first of his two extra points to make it a 7-6 lead.
The JV Scots regained the lead on the next drive just five plays later when quarterback Shylann Harrell hit Tony Johnson for a 33-yard strike. The two-point try by Blue was good this time to make it a 14-7 game.
After going for it on 4th-and-5 from Scotland’s 34-yard line on the next drive and coming up short, the JV Raiders managed to stop the JV Scots from scoring before the half.
Despite letting Scotland into the red zone, touchdown-saving tackles by freshman Jason Gainey, sophomore Jarah Cook and freshman Timothy Sloan, who also had a sack on the opening drive, on three of the final four plays kept it a one-possession deficit at the break.
Trailing by a score to start the third quarter, the JV Raiders tallied their final touchdown of the night on their second drive of the second half.
Starting at their own 44-yard line, the JV Raiders used runs from sophomore running backs Javion Smith and Joseph Patterson to get a first down. A 15-yard penalty by Scotland, coupled with a defensive pass interference call put Richmond at the 9-yard line.
Two plays later, Patterson bruised his way into the end zone from 6 yards out to pull within a point. Veach split the uprights again to tie it 14-14 with 4:27 left in the third quarter.
Richmond’s defense came up big again on the next drive. With the JV Scots facing a fourth-and-goal, Gainey and sophomore linebacker Fred Isaac Jr. led the charge to chase Harrell out of bounds and force a turnover on downs.
“We didn’t make the big play when we needed to, that’s what it boils down to,” Mercer said. “We thought we’d have a chance at a last-minute drive but Scotland used a quarterback run to get the first down.
“I thought we were in a good position to make a potential stop, but when the quarterback kept it, it was hard to account for him when we were lined up to stop a play they’d been running all night.”
Entering the final quarter with the score tied, the JV Scots would score the game-winning touchdown with 6:29 left in regulation.
An 11-yard run by Deiandre Braddy around the left edge found the end zone, and another successful two-point try put Scotland up by eight points.
On the ensuing kickoff, the JV Raiders botched the recovery and the JV Scots took over near midfield. Sophomore cornerback Le’Shaun Goodwin broke up a pass on third down to help force a punt to give Richmond’s offense another chance.
Smith (15 rushes, 101 yards) gained 28 yards on the ground on three straight plays. But Richmond’s drive stalled with 2:45 remaining after two holding calls, a two-yard loss and an incompletion on fourth down.
The JV Scots managed to run out the clock thanks to a first-down run by Harrell with just over a minute left.
“This season showed a lot of growth from our team,” Mercer shared. “We started out with two tough losses by less than 10 points each. But then we rattled off six straight wins.
“We didn’t finish the way we wanted to, but Richmond County football is in good hands for the next three or four years. I’m proud of all of our guys,” he closed.
Richmond finished the season with a 6-3 overall record and a 5-1 mark against SAC teams. All of the JV Raiders’ wins came in a row, part of a season-long six-game winning streak.