ROCKINGHAM — Missed opportunities despite winning the turnover battle hindered the Richmond Senior High School football team during Thursday’s season opener.
The Raiders and sixth-year head coach Bryan Till hosted Mount Tabor High School a day earlier than planned due to potential inclement weather.
Richmond couldn’t get into a groove, falling to the Spartans 45-7.
The loss was the first Week 1 defeat suffered by the Raiders dating back to 1985, and it was Richmond’s largest margin of defeat in program history (previous was 37 points to Terry Sanford in 1980).
The Raiders managed to collect two interceptions and recovered two fumbles in the game, two more than Mount Tabor.
Senior safety Messiah Shaw and junior defensive end Jacoby Martin each had a pick, while sophomores A.J. Speach and Tate Simpson scooped up fumbles within a 1:23 span in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve got a lot of young kids and there was a lot of growth,” Till said after the loss. “We saw some great plays on the two interceptions and a couple of fumble recoveries late, guys hitting holes. There were some really good things.
“There aren’t many times you don’t win the game when you win the turnover battle,” he continued. “We have to be a little more consistent so those splash plays can put us ahead and not be flashes in the pan.”
Trailing 21-0 at halftime, Richmond’s defense allowed the Spartans to score on three of their four first-half drives.
Following a three-and-out by Richmond on its first series, one of five drives to end in a punt, the Spartans marched 77 yards in 10 plays to find the end zone.
Despite a quarterback sack by sophomore linebacker Bobby Little on the second play, quarterback Semaj Reaves-Smith connected with tailback J.P. Peterkin for a 10-yard touchdown pass.
The extra point was added by Wes Dunlap with 7:17 left in the opening frame to make it 7-0.
Senior quarterback Emoni McBride and the Richmond offense would get into the red zone on their next two drives, but failed to find the scoreboard.
Sophomore wide receiver Raymond Knotts, who had three catches and a team-high 32 receiving yards, collected two first-down grabs on Richmond’s second possession. A pair of offsides calls against the Spartans helped move the Raiders into the red zone.
Facing a fourth-and-inches from the half-yard line, McBride was stopped in the backfield on a quarterback keeper, turning the ball over on downs.
Shaw came up with his first interception of the season on the next drive, making an athletic basket catch on a 3-and-14 pass attempt by Reaves-Smith. Richmond took over at its own 46-yard line.
Again the Raiders moved inside the 15-yard line, but McBride threw an interception in the end zone on a pass intended for Knotts on a fade route.
“The call was man to my side and I just had my eyes locked on my receiver,” Shaw explained. “I saw he was running a go route and I stayed with him. Coach Campo always tells us in practice about look and lean drills, I did it and I made the play.
“Even though we were down, a positive that I saw tonight was a lot of guys trying to pick each other up,” he continued. “We tried to finish the game strong and we need that unity and teamwork the rest of the season.”
Running back Giovanni Caesar, who had 228 of Mount Tabor’s 405 total rushing yards, scored on a one-yard run on the Spartans’ next drive, an 80-yard march. That gave the visitors a 14-0 lead with 4:33 left in the second quarter.
Richmond had another chance to find pay dirt before halftime, again moving the ball across midfield and to the Spartans’ 24-yard line. On fourth-and-five, McBride couldn’t connect with senior running back Taye Spencer in the end zone, creating a turnover on downs.
The Spartans managed to score in the remaining 24.3 seconds of the half, using a 69-yard run from Caesar, before he caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Reaves-Smith.
“We got down to third and fourth-and-inches and we didn’t stick it in the end zone,” Till said. “We stopped them on an interception and had a short field again, and we had a great play call but dropped the ball.
“We’re a couple guys away from tackles several times stopping them on third-down and short. We hit them in the backfield and they squeaked by by an inch. If we get those two scores, it’s a different ball game.”
Just five plays into the third quarter, Martin came up with Richmond’s second pick of the game, temporarily shifting the momentum. Reading the ball off the line, Martin jumped the route in the right flat at the 42-yard line and muscled his way down to the Mount Tabor 10-yard line.
That set up the Raiders’ lone score of the game, a four-yard passing score on third down. McBride extended the play by rolling out to his right, and sniped a pass to Spencer inside the front right pylon.
Senior kicker Ayden Mabe split the uprights on the point-after attempt, making it a 21-7 game with 9:44 to play in the third.
Mount Tabor answered by scoring two touchdowns and a field goal on its next three possessions to make it a 38-7 advantage.
Caesar rushed for a 70-yard score, Reaves-Smith hit Shamarius Peterkin for a 10-yard score and Dunlap booted a 25-yard field goal before the end of the third quarter.
Jayson Cowan fumbled on the Spartans’ first drive of the fourth, which was picked up by Speach. Richmond turned it back over two plays later when junior quarterback Zaviar Lowry threw an interception.
The back-and-forth continued two more plays later, when Mackay Brendle coughed it up and Simpson regained possession at the 35-yard line.
With the clock winding inside of 30 seconds, Cowan broke loose for a 64-yard rushing score for the game’s final touchdown.
McBride finished the game 10-of-24 passing with 105 yards and one touchdown. Spencer led the Raiders with 45 rushing yards on 10 carries, and added four receptions for 31 yards and a score.
Mount Tabor (1-0) collected 505 yards of total offense to Richmond’s 201 yards of total offense.
“There were so many moving parts and new pieces that we have to get used to in general,” Till said. “We’ve got a lot more h-back stuff going on and all new wide receivers. The guys just have to learn the offense.
“We’ll take this game and watch film to get better from it,” Till closed. “We moved some guys around tonight and now we know where they fit best personnel wise.”
Richmond (0-1) will look to enter the win column against another tough non-conference opponent at home against David W. Butler High School next Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Last season, the Raiders overcame two late deficits and used a late-game defensive stand to edge Butler 32-29 at Memorial Stadium in Charlotte.
The Richmond Observer will publish a preview article for next Friday’s home game against the Bulldogs later in the week.
The Richmond Observer will publish a photo gallery of Thursday’s season opener over the weekend. For updates on all Richmond County sports, follow us on Twitter @ROSports_.