ROCKINGHAM – It was a tale of two halves Friday night as the Richmond Senior High School football team hosted its last non-conference opponent of the season. Playing on a short week following a makeup game Monday, the Raiders fell to the Donald W. Butler High School Bulldogs 27-21.
Dropping its second home game in as many tries this season, Richmond (2-2) struggled in the first half to contain a powerful Butler (1-1) running attack that gathered 288 yards on the night. Using a trio of tailbacks, the Bulldogs scored all 27 of their points in the first half, and found the end zone on four of its first five offensive drives.
Four days after rolling over Pine Forest High School 40-14, Richmond’s defense looked sluggish at the start of Friday’s contest. The Raiders defense allowed a season-high 368 total offensive yards, and failed to get a grasp on Butler’s ground game, giving up three rushing touchdowns in the first two quarters of play. Richmond’s entire offense only totaled 238 yards on the night.
“Tonight’s biggest issue was focus,” first-year head coach Bryan Till said. “I don’t think we focused on the task at hand. We did things well in practice (this week), but tonight we weren’t able to line things up.”
Richmond won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, and it only took Butler’s offense, captained by junior quarterback Christian Peters, 2:42 to march 58 yards on six plays to open the night’s scoring. Senior running back Nijere Peoples, who finished the night with 69 yards on 16 carries, scored his first of two touchdowns on a handoff from Peters from 14 yards out. Sophomore kicker Nyzaiah King tacked on the point after touchdown.
After a failed onside kick by the Bulldogs, the Raiders’ offense quickly answered with an opening-drive score of their own. With the help of three Butler penalties, two of which were 15-yard personal foul calls, the Raiders used the short playing field to their advantage.
Senior running back Dante Miller, who has been Richmond’s top offensive producer this season, took five straight handoffs before splitting Bulldogs’ defensive line for a four-yard touchdown run. Senior kicker Victor Lucero, who returned to action after not playing the last two games, tied the game with the extra point.
Senior running back Dante Miller (21) eludes Butler defenders; Miller scored a game-high three touchdowns.
Over the last three seasons, Butler and Richmond have met and given fans thrilling high-scoring performances. The last time the Raiders beat Butler was in 2014, an overtime shootout that saw Richmond edge its cross-state opponent 55-54. Friday’s game promised to be another close affair, until the Bulldogs went on a 20-0 run to end the first half.
On its second, and longest scoring drive of the game, Butler’s offense matriculated the ball 79 yards down the field on 16 plays. Using a steady diet of running backs Jamal Worthy, Keyon Lesane and Peoples, the Bulldogs executed a variety of inside handoffs and misdirection plays which culminated in Peoples crossing the goal line on a one-yard score. King’s PAT with 0:14 remaining in the opening quarter gave Butler a 14-7 lead.
The second quarter wasn’t much better for Richmond on either side of the ball, as the Raiders went three-and-out to start. Beating its opponent with speed on the edges, Butler relied on Lesane (team-high 88 yards on five carries) and Worthy (65 yards, 16 attempts) to extend its lead. Scoring on Butler’s third consecutive drive to open the game, Worthy exploded for a nine-yard touchdown, his only of the night. King’s extra point was blocked by Richmond senior special teams player Tony McRae.
With 1:54 remaining in the second quarter, Butler senior strong safety T.J. Cusick ended a Richmond drive by intercepting a Caleb Hood pass at his own 40-yard line. Tempers flared between both teams late in the first half, and Richmond’s defense faltered again, allowing Peters (4-of-8 passing, 80 yards) to connect on his only touchdown of the night, a 24-yard strike to Cusick. King’s PAT upped the lead to 27-7 heading into the locker room.
But the second half was all Richmond, which “flipped the switch” on both offense and defense, despite coming up short in the end.
“I’m not at all frustrated with our performance tonight,” Till said. “I’m excited that they flipped that switch. I just want our guys to be able to do it earlier in games. I hate that we figured it out late, but I think they know what it takes to win a ball game.”
The Raiders then found their rhythm on both sides of the ball, with the defense holding the Bulldogs to a second-half shutout. Miller, who finished with a game-high 152 yards on 24 carries and three touchdowns, put the offense on his back as he powered his way to two second half touchdowns.
The Raiders defense shifted the momentum when a team of defenders broke loose into the pocket and sacked Peters. On the ensuing drive, Hood (10-of-15 passing, 56 yards) and the Richmond offense took over at the Butler 38-yard line, and three plays later, Miller blasted through a hole for a 35-yard touchdown run. Lucero’s PAT cut the lead to 27-14.
Richmond’s Taveon Ellerbe (10) attempts to tackle Butler’s Jamal Worthy in Friday’s 27-21 loss.
Senior outside linebacker Savion Streeter came up huge a few plays later, when he chased down Peters to sack him for a loss of nine yards. A raucous crowd erupted and fueled Richmond’s second-half surge. Butler attempted a punt to end the drive, but a bad snap forced punter Cusick to scramble and pooch the ball only 16 yards.
Just 3:42 after scoring his second touchdown, Miller got another burst of speed, this time galloping up the middle for a game-long 40 yards before muscling his way to his third and final rushing score of the night. Now trailing by only six points, 27-21, Richmond appeared to have found its rhythm.
Butler failed to score the rest of the game, twice missing field goals to put the game out of reach. Following a senior linebacker Delon Wall sack, Butler’s Alex Harnell attempted a 32-yard field goal with 10:26 remaining in the fourth quarter that missed to the right. On the Bulldogs’ next drive, which the Raiders’ defense stalled at its own 12-yard line, Harnell’s 29-yard field goal was blocked by a swarm of Richmond defenders after a botched snap and hold.
Making things interesting in their final offensive drive of the game, the Raiders’ offense took over at their own 21-yard line. Driving down the field using the tandem of Miller and sophomore running back Jaheim Covington (17 yards on six carries) out of the back field, the Raiders drove down to Butler’s 22-yard line with 0:34 remaining.
In a last-ditch effort, Till called a timeout and had his offense try some trickery. Facing a fourth-and-eight situation, Miller tossed the ball backwards to senior wide receiver Kaleb Douglas, who launched a pass to well-covered Hood. The ball sailed over his head and out of bounds, ending Richmond’s second-half rally.
Despite being 2-2 on the year, Till knows his team is capable of playing better and “flipping that switch” sooner in games. He addressed his players after the game and told them this loss was supposed to be tough to take because they had fought so hard to get back into the game.
“We played like we were supposed to play in the second half,” Till added. “Being 2-2 is where we are. It’s not about where we want to be; but we’re going to keep moving forward and get ready to play Purnell Swett.”
Richmond will enter its bye week this week, giving its players time to rest and make necessary adjustments. The Raiders will return to action and open Sandhills Athletic Conference play at home on Friday, September 22, 2017, as they’ll welcome in Purnell Swett High School (3-0). The game is a featured “Touchdown Against Cancer Game,” with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m.