ROCKINGHAM — In expected rivalry fashion, Friday’s 4A Sandhills Athletic Conference meeting came down to the wire at Raider Stadium.
Despite recording a second-half shutout on defense, the Richmond football team lost for the second year in a row to Pinecrest High School.
The low-scoring slugfest ended in a 20-12 loss for the Raiders and head coach Bryan Till, who said the team just ran out of time to complete the comeback.
It was the first time in the now 46 all-time meetings between the two programs that Pinecrest has won consecutive games.
Although the Raiders kept the Patriots’ offense from scoring in the final two quarters, two second-half interceptions, including a pick-six, kept the Raiders from the win. Till also noted that the team was without four of its starters.
“That’s a good football team, but I still feel like we’re the better football team,” Till said. “I believe our team is better and we ran out of time. They made some great plays, were coached up well and had our signals, which is a bye week prep thing. We tried to mix things up but that’s a great job by their coaches.
“I’ll take our kids a million times over theirs. Our guys played so dang hard and our defense shut them out in the second half. The most impressive thing is our kids at halftime said they would shut them out and they believed that. Our fans stayed to watch us in the rain and we really appreciate that.
“We just ran out of time,” Till repeated. “We kept getting so close to scoring one, breaking one. It was a smart play (by Pinecrest) to make the pass interference (in the fourth quarter) because we were running by them right there.”
A tight-fisted first half yielded an eight-point deficit for Richmond. Both teams punted on their respective opening series, with senior defensive back Marquan Martin nearly intercepting a pass on second down of Pinecrest’s first drive.
A second consecutive three-and-out by the Raiders resulted in a Patriots score. Taking over at the Richmond 47-yard line, senior quarterback Mason Konen completed a 43-yard strike on second down to junior wide receiver Elijah Melton to get Pinecrest to the 3-yard line.
Running the wildcat, senior Jaylin Morgan took the direct snap and rounded the right edge for a rushing score. Following the point-after attempt, Pinecrest led 7-0 with 5:47 left in the first quarter.
Richmond stalled near midfield on its next drive. The punt was blocked, but it didn’t matter because junior linebacker K’Mauri Morgan got the ball back quickly.
Three plays later, sophomore linebacker Terande Spencer blitzed off the right edge, tipping a Konen pass attempt. There to grab the ball out of the air was Morgan, his first pick of the season, who returned it to the Patriots’ 48-yard line.
That turnover resulted in Richmond’s only first-half touchdown.
Senior running back Jaliel Green (34 rushing yards on 14 carries) started the drive with a 12-yard run for a first down.
Later in the series, sophomore quarterback Domonic Tillman aired out a 29-yard completion to senior wide receiver Javian Drake, who adjusted around a defensive back to haul in the catch at the Pinecrest five-yard line.
On second-and-goal from the four-yard line, Tillman kept the ball on a designed keeper for the score. Richmond’s PAT was wide left, making it a 7-6 deficit with 10:42 left in the opening half.
Punts by both teams saw the Patriots score once more before the break on a five-play, 83-yard march. Following a facemask penalty by Richmond, junior running back Zymire Spencer (104 rushing yards on 16 touches) found a hole for a 35-yard rushing score.
Another made PAT gave the Patriots a 14-6 lead as the clock wound down to 4:08 in the second stanza.
The Raiders drove near midfield, but a lost fumble on a pitch to the left. Pinecrest took over, but Morgan made a stop in the backfield on third down to bring up fourth.
Pinecrest attempted the conversion on fourth-and-seven at the Raiders’ 22-yard line, but the pass attempt from Konen (5-of-11, 99 yards) was incomplete. At the half, Richmond trailed by one possession.
Junior linebacker Joe Parsons sacked Konen to start the third quarter for an eight-yard loss. With the Patriots backed up inside their own 30-yard line, a bad snap on a punt attempt resulted in the Raiders getting possession at Pinecrest’s 28-yard line.
Taking advantage of the miscue, Tillman (17-of-35, 125 yards) and the offense capitalized four plays later. A 10-yard rush from Green, coupled with a facemask penalty, moved the ball inside the 10-yard line.
With the rain starting to fall, Tillman threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Drake on third down, who tiptoed inside the back of the end zone for his team-leading fourth scoring reception of the season.
Going for the two-point try to knot the score, Tillman (41 yards, 10 attempts) was stopped short of the goal line. At the 6:09 mark of the third quarter, Richmond cut its deficit to 14-12.
Richmond’s defense, which held Pinecrest to 242 yards of total offense and just 25 yards on six second-half drives, turned up its intensity over the next few series. Senior defensive back Jamison Jones broke up a pass that led to a punt.
On the next defensive series, two penalties put the Patriots inside their own 15-yard line and led to another punt, one of four consecutive punts in the half for them. Junior Jarah Cook got a hand on the kick and the Raiders started the drive at Pinecrest’s 29-yard line.
The good field position didn’t work out for the Raiders, as only three positive yards and a false start penalty made it 4th-and-12. Tillman’s pass attempt intended for sophomore wide receiver Jayden Hamilton fell incomplete.
“When we get in their territory at the start of the fourth quarter, we have to score, even if it’s just three points to put us up by one,” Till said of the unsuccessful set of downs.
Richmond’s next possession ended in an interception by William Miller at the Patriots’ 39-yard line with 6:39 to play.
On the ensuing drive, senior defensive end Jacoby Martin, who made his season debut following an achilles injury, made a four-yard tackle-for-loss on second down.
Parsons and junior defensive back CJ Covington forced Z. Spencer out of bounds to force a punt and give Richmond’s offense another chance.
But after collecting a first down, Tillman threw an interception. Jumping the route was senior Isaiah Sherian, who caught the ball at the 35-yard line and returned it for a touchdown.
Richmond blocked the PAT to remain within eight points, 20-12, with 2:08 left in the game.
With one more chance, sophomore wideout Keonta Pegues made a pair of four-yard catches. Facing fourth-and-two, a pass intended for Drake resulted in defensive pass interference and a first down.
A sack by Morgan and an intentional grounding call and loss of down made it fourth-and-22. Trying one last play, Tillman’s pass was no good to Drake.
The turnover on downs with 1:12 left in regulation, along with no timeouts remaining for Richmond, resulted in victory formation for Pinecrest (5-0, 1-0 SAC).
Richmond finished the game with 189 yards of total offense (125 passing, 64 rushing). Drake caught six passes for 57 yards and Hamilton also hauled in six grabs for 33 yards.
“That’s been the story of the whole year,” Till explained of the late missed opportunities. “We have to find a way to be bigger than the moment. That’s the bottom line. We’ve got kids who want to make plays, but we have to have a better understanding of the moment and make that happen.
“We have to be able to be more physical when it matters, make the big catch when it matters, go make the run or block when it matters. That’s on us as coaches.”
Richmond (1-5, 1-1 SAC) travels to SAC 4A opponent Hoke County High School (2-4, 0-2 SAC) next Friday. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
The Richmond Observer will publish a gallery of Friday’s loss to Pinecrest on Saturday. Richmond scorekeeper Reggie Till contributed stats to this article.