SANFORD — Richmond Senior High School extended its season-long winning streak to three games on Friday, in what proved to be a high-scoring, back-and-forth nailbiter.
Adding a nice touch to its sixth and final road game of the season, the Raiders earned a 35-33 victory over Lee County High School.
In a battle of two of the top three teams in the Sandhills Athletic Conference, the Raiders used an explosive first half, a special teams stand and sustained a game-winning drive for over four minutes to hand the Yellow Jackets their second straight loss.
Keeping their chances of earning a Sandhills Athletic Conference championship alive, the Raiders made plays when necessary despite being outperformed in total offensive yardage (486 yards to 339 yards).
In a high-scoring first quarter that saw four scores over 65+ yards, two from each team, the Raiders got on the board first. Senior Brandon Askins took flight on a 24-yard field goal attempt to block it on Lee County’s first drive.
Taking over at their own 20-yard line, the Raiders matriculated the ball down the field on a 7-play, 80-yard scoring drive.
Senior Taye Spencer (20 rushes, 92 yards) capped the drive with a 4-yard push around the left edge, the first of his two total touchdowns in the game. Spencer collected 52 yards on the ground during that drive.
Sophomore Billy West, who was perfect on extra point attempts, drilled his first one to make it 7-0 with 6:07 left in the first.
Following a punt by the Yellow Jackets (6-2, 2-2 SAC) on the next drive, the Raiders registered the first of many explosive scoring plays.
On 3rd-and-18, senior quarterback Emoni McBride threw a screen pass to Spencer in the left flat, who turned on the afterburners and raced 83 yards down the left sideline to the house.
West extended Richmond’s lead to 14 points with his second PAT with 2:17 remaining.
Lee County running back B.J. Brown, who was a Swiss Army knife all night, answered on the next play from scrimmage with a 67-yard rushing score. Brown finished the game with 274 rushing yards on 24 carries and 3 TDs.
Putting an exclamation point on the opening frame for the Raiders, junior tailback Jaliel Green broke through the line on the first play of Richmond’s next possession for a 66-yard rushing score.
Shedding several tacklers inside the 20-yard line, including Raleak Cotton, Green added to the lead. West was true again to make it 21-7 with 64 ticks on the clock.
Brown wasted no time to cut Lee County’s deficit. Just three plays into the next series, Brown raced 65 yards to the end zone. The two teams combined for four touchdowns in a 1:55 span to close the first.
The Jackets tied the game midway through the second stanza, using a 35-yard pass from quarterback Mark Schlesinger to Kendal Morris.
Following the extra point by Alonso Hernandez, both teams were even at 21-21.
With 1:12 to go before the break, McBride (8-of-13, 158 yards, 3 TDs) threw his second passing score, this one a 26-yard strike over the middle to senior wide receiver Jamarion Bryant on 4th-and-11.
Catching the ball at the 6-yard line, Bryant barreled his way through a couple of defenders to fight his way into the end zone. It was his first receiving touchdown of the season. West made it a 28-21 lead with 1:12 left in the first half.
Lee County moved into Richmond territory and threatened to score, but an illegal forward pass by Schlesinger on fourth down turned the ball over.
Preceding that play was a QB hurry by sophomore linebacker Bobby Little and a pass breakup by junior linebacker Marquan Martin.
The Raiders carried a 28-21 lead into intermission, the team’s highest-scoring first half this fall.
Richmond suffered a game-ending injury to starting center Johnny Lunceford, which shifted the roles along the offensive line in the second half. Senior Jeffery Linton moved to center and sophomore Gray Maultsby padded the left tackle position.
Despite being outscored 12-7 in the second half, head coach Bryan Till said he was pleased with the way his team adapted to the circumstances to hold onto the win.
Senior linebacker Frazion Steele set up the eventual game-winning score when he forced the only turnover by either team in the game.
On Lee County’s first possession of the third quarter, Steele stripped the ball from receiver Logan Walker and returned the fumble to the 7-yard line.
A false start backed the Raiders up but McBride coolly tied his career-high with his third passing touchdown a play later. On play-action, McBride lobbed a 12-yard pass to junior wide receiver Jada Zimmerman, who hauled in his fourth touchdown in as many games in the back left corner.
West completed his assignment one last time to give the Raiders a 35-21 advantage with 7:23 left in the third quarter.
An incomplete pass by Schlesinger inside the red zone on fourth down resulted in another turnover, and the score carried over into the fourth.
The Richmond defense made stops on four straight running plays inside the 7-yard line early in the fourth quarter to take possession at its 1-yard line.
Over the next 4:13, the momentum belonged to the Yellow Jackets. Daryeon Jennings capped a short drive with a 1-yard rushing score, but Hernandez’s extra point banged off the left post to keep it a 35-27 Richmond lead.
An onside kick attempt was recovered by Isaiah McKendall and the Jackets made quick work to find the end zone again. A 2-yard touchdown run from Brown made it a two-point game.
Electing to go for two points with 4:26 left in regulation, the teamwork of sophomore linebacker Joe Parsons and senior safety Messiah Shaw thwarted Lee County’s comeback attempt.
Parsons burst through the line and applied pressure on Schlesinger (9-of-21, 123 yards), who forced an errant pass attempt that was picked by Shaw at the goal line.
Prior to the game, Till said sustaining offensive drives would be a key to victory, and the Raiders responded with a 7-play, 44-yard march that chewed the final 4:20 off the scoreboard.
A personal foul penalty against Lee County, coupled with first down runs by McBride and Spencer, put the Raiders in victory formation.
Green finished the game with 83 rushing yards on 5 touches, McBride added 27 yards on 4 carries and Spencer was the team’s leading receiver with 83 yards on one grab. Sophomore Travion Smith caught a team-high 3 passes for 25 yards.
The Raiders (5-4, 4-1 SAC) get a much-anticipated bye week next Friday before closing the regular season at home on Oct. 28 against rival Scotland High School (4-4, 2-2 SAC). Senior night kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.
At the time of publication, Richmond stands alone in second place in the 3A/4A SAC standings, trailing just Pinecrest High School (6-2, 4-0 SAC).
The Richmond Observer will publish a preview article before the Raiders host the Fighting Scots in two weeks.
Below are video interviews with Frazion Steele and Brandon Askins, Joe Parsons and Messiah Shaw, Taye Spencer and Jaliel Green, Jada Zimmerman and Emoni McBride and head coach Bryan Till and co-offensive coordinator Patrick Hope.
The Richmond Observer will publish a photo gallery of Friday’s win over the weekend. For updates on all Richmond County sports, follow us on Twitter @ROSports_.