MATTHEWS — Special teams, specifically punt returns, and “self-inflicted wounds” were deciding factors in Friday’s non-conference football game.
Traveling for the first time this season, Richmond Senior High School dropped its second game in two tries this fall.
The woes continued on both sides of the ball for the Raiders, who fell 50-13 to the No. 25 Butler Bulldogs.
It was the second straight season Richmond lost by at least 33 points to Butler.
“The big story to me in this whole thing is don’t hurt ourselves,” head coach Bryan Till said. “Fumbling snaps, a blocked punt, two returned punts, an interception.
“When we didn’t have self-inflicted wounds, we played all right,” he added. “I looked up at one point and the score was 36-6. Twenty-eight of those points came off of special teams, which makes the difference between a one-score ball game and that score.”
Falling behind 34-0 at halftime, the Raiders allowed a trio of rushing scores and two punt returns for a touchdown in the opening two quarters.
Both teams punted on their first two possessions of the game. Helping set up Butler’s punts were a pass breakup by senior cornerback Jamison Jones, a quarterback pressure by junior nose tackle Tate Simpson and a near interception by senior defensive back Darius Harris.
Richmond’s second punt was blocked, which gave the Bulldogs (2-0) good field position at the Richmond 18-yard line, another theme that worked against the Raiders all game long.
With 5:02 left in the opening quarter, Butler ran it in from 7 yards out, a score by Jayden Williams. The point-after attempt was good giving the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead.
After another punt from Richmond, one of nine drives during the game that ended on the foot of junior punter Billy West, the Bulldogs used a starting point from the Richmond 26-yard line to score again.
Just four plays later, Williams muscled his way through a hole up the middle for a 15-yard rushing touchdown, his second of three in the game. Another good PAT made it 14-0 with just over a minute left in the first.
A series later, junior defensive back Christopher Covington intercepted a pass from quarterback Zach Lawrence at the Richmond 3-yard line to stop the drive. He hugged the right sideline to return it to the Raiders’ 30-yard line.
Despite the positive turnover, the Raiders’ offense stalled out and punted again. Dequadre Currence returned the ball to the end zone for a 58-yard score.
Missing the PAT, Butler opened its lead to 20-0 with 7:45 remaining in the second frame.
Just 1:15 later, it was deja vu for the Richmond punt team after a three-and-out. Currence caught the ball and moved to the right sideline on the return, weaving back across the middle for a 42-yard punt return score.
Trailing 27-0 after the PAT, Richmond punted on its final two first-half drives. Harris had a pass breakup to force a turnover on downs.
In the final 30 seconds of the half, running back Tyquan Rankin capped a four-play, 66-yard scoring drive. Becoming the second of three Bulldogs to score on the ground, he lunged in from three yards out.
Another PAT from Nicholas Konieczynski made it a five-possession lead for the Bulldogs with 17.2 ticks left before the break.
Seven of Richmond’s nine first-half drives ended in a punt, while the other two were a blocked punt and the end of the second quarter.
The Raiders had a more productive final two quarters, scoring on two of their six possessions. West, who averaged 31.6 yards per kick, had to punt just three more times.
One of those punts was on the opening drive in the third quarter that saw Richmond backed up to its own 6-yard line following an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Kicking from his own end zone, West’s punt was blocked and trickled out of the back for a safety.
Richmond’s defense continued to battle, holding the Bulldogs to just two yards across three series, all of which resulted in punts.
During that stretch, Jones had another pass breakup, junior linebacker K’Mauri Morgan made a tackle-for-loss and junior defensive end Zach Gardner sacked quarterback Zach Lawrence to force a punt.
Later in the third quarter, sophomore outside linebacker Terande Spencer got into the backfield to drop Williams for a loss and create another punting situation.
That’s when the Raiders’ offense started to click, led by sophomore quarterback Evan Hodges, who made his first career start. Playing the whole game, Hodges captained a 10-play, 65-yard drive that resulted in a score.
Senior running back Jaliel Greene (20 carries, 68 yards) picked up a pair of first downs and senior wideout Javian Drake (5 catches, 107 yards) moved the sticks one time.
At the Butler 5-yard line, Hodges scrambled out of a broken play and rolled left, running into the end zone untouched. It was his first career rushing score, which put Richmond on the board.
The PAT was just wide and Richmond’s deficit was cut to 36-6 with 11:02 left in the fourth quarter.
However, the Bulldogs answered with a 3-yard rushing score from Williams on the ensuing drive to extend their lead to 43-6 with under six minutes left in regulation.
Hodges (8-for-17, 123 passing yards) and the offense didn’t give up, which used Drake as a catalyst for the team’s second touchdown. Starting at their own 20-yard line, the Raiders took just four plays to find pay dirt.
This time, Hodges hurled a pass under pressure to the right sideline, where Drake made a contested catch over a defensive back. Hauling in the ball, Drake dashed the rest of the way to the house for a 56-yard catch and score.
It was Drake’s first career varsity touchdown reception and West’s PAT cut the lead to 43-13 with exactly three minutes to play.
“Evan is learning on the job,” Till said. “Domonic (Tillman) didn’t practice until the second half of Wednesday’s practice, he’s still tight in the calf. Based on the number of reps Evan took, that’s what we felt we had to do tonight.
“I’m looking forward to that competition getting back in gear a little bit on Monday. Some of the throws Evan made late were from learning the hard way earlier. I hope those lessons can be learned more on film instead of the hard way in the future.”
Answering once more, Butler used a 54-yard touchdown run from Keyshawn Barrino two plays later for the final scoring play of the game.
An interception on Richmond’s next offensive series led to two kneel-downs by the Bulldogs to run out the clock.
Richmond tallied 177 yards of total offense (123 passing, 54 rushing) on 57 plays. Butler notched 259 yards of offense (61 passing, 198 rushing) on eight fewer plays.
The Raiders also committed a dozen penalties that backed them up 80 yards, while the Bulldogs had just four penalties for 34 yards.
Hodges completed passes to four different receivers — Drake (5), Green, and junior Jordan Bostick and senior Jada Zimmerman. Drake caught four first downs and had two catches of over 20 yards.
“Some of the returns were on (Butler’s) part, they did a great job scheming that up,” Till explained. “I can’t tell you how many times we practice punts, it’s always the first special teams we do and we do it probably three times as much throughout the week.
“We have to go back and see what our execution is like and what we’re doing from that standpoint,” he closed. “We did have a better second half and there were better results. Now we just have to do that all game.”
The Raiders’ (0-2) next chance to try and break into the win column will be next Friday at home against another familiar non-conference opponent.
Richmond will welcome in Cardinal Gibbons High School (1-1), which was ranked as the No. 4 team in the state by HighSchoolOT heading into Week 2. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Raider Stadium.
The Richmond Observer will publish a photo gallery of Richmond’s road game at Butler on Saturday.