CAMERON — Everything went according to plan for the Richmond football team following the opening kickoff during Friday’s Sandhills Athletic Conference road game.
Entering the final third of the regular season, the Raiders held off a potential second-half surge by Union Pines High School to earn a 34-23 victory.
Scoring 20 unanswered points as part of a crucial first half, Richmond kept its playoff hopes alive and got to the .500 mark for the first time this fall.
On the opening kickoff, the Vikings enjoyed their only lead of the game when Ethan Biggs raced 90 yards to the end zone. It was the second straight game the Raiders allowed a score on the opening kick.
Brett Clemons took the kick and lateralled it back across the field to Biggs, who went the length of the field down the left sideline. With the PAT, Union Pines led 7-0 just 13 seconds into the game.
For the remainder of the first half, the momentum belonged to the Raiders on both sides of the ball.
Richmond’s defense, which held the Vikings to just 186 yards of total offense, forced a punt on the second drive. There to stuff the kick were senior Brandon Askins, along with pressure from junior Jaliel Green.
Picking the ball up at the 30-yard line was junior Isaiah Lockhart, who returned it to the 10-yard line. Two plays later, senior running back Taye Spencer crossed into the end zone from 3 yards.
The PAT was no good and Richmond trailed 7-6 with 5:50 remaining in the first.
Another defensive stand forced a Union Pines punt on the next drive, which resulted in an 8-play, 85-yard scoring march for Richmond.
Senior quarterback Emoni McBride, who had another career performance with three passing touchdowns to three different receivers, capped the drive with the first one. Helping move the ball down field was a 17-yard catch by freshman Jay Hamilton and a 16-yard run by Spencer.
On third down, McBride threw a 5-yard toss over the middle to sophomore wide receiver Raymond Knotts for the score.
Fellow sophomore Billy West split the uprights with 1:19 left in the first, giving the Raiders a 13-7 lead, one they would hold onto for the rest of the night.
Finding the end zone one more time before the break, McBride (14-of-22, 163 yards) floated a 3-yard fade to junior wide receiver Jada Zimmerman inside the left front pylon.
Moving the sticks on the drive were completions to senior Jamarion Bryant (10 yards) and sophomore Travion Smith (19 yards). West’s PAT extended Richmond’s lead to 20-7 with 1:19 on the clock.
Sophomore linebacker Bobby Little added his team-leading eighth sack of the season in the final seconds of the half, splitting the gap to knock senior quarterback Ben Finkelstein (14-of-24, 72 yards, 2 TDs) for a 4-yard loss.
The second half was more contested between the two teams, seeing the Vikings (2-5, 0-3 SAC) outscore Richmond 16-14.
Junior linebacker Marquan Martin helped stall Union Pines’ first drive of the third quarter when he intercepted a Finkelstein pass at the Richmond 16-yard line. It was the only interception by either team in the game.
The Raiders gave the ball back four plays later on a fumble, which led to a Vikings touchdown. Finkelstein threw a touchdown to Oliver Cooper and connected with him again on a successful two-point conversion.
Still leading 20-15 with 5:00 left in the third, Spencer and the Raiders’ offense answered with a touchdown on the ensuing possession. Several runs by Green (4 rushes, 19 yards) and a 40-yard catch by junior receiver Linden Garcia moved Richmond into the red zone.
On 1st-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Spencer plowed up the middle for his second score of the game. West’s extra point gave the Raiders a 27-15 lead.
Two drives later, sophomore linebacker Zach Gardner helped seal the deal by forcing a fumble when Finkelstein scrambled out of the pocket. The bouncing ball was collected by Askins, who took it to the Vikings’ 22-yard line.
A 16-yard burst from Spencer put the ball inside the 5-yard line, and on the next play, McBride zipped his final touchdown of the game to junior Jacoby Martin.
A defensive end, Martin was in on a special goal line package and hauled in the 4-yard score. It was the first receiving touchdown of his career. One more PAT from West moved Richmond’s cushion to 34-15 with 7:52 left in regulation.
Adding Richmond’s only other quarterback sack of the game was senior linebacker Isaiah Wall.
Not going away quietly, the Vikings scored once more, a 10-yard pass from Finkelstein to Brendan Ortega. Going for two, Ortega caught the conversion attempt to cut Union Pines’ deficit to 34-23.
Three rushing first downs by Spencer on the next series milked the clock and allowed the Raiders to go into victory formation. Spencer finished the game as the leading rusher with 122 yards on 19 carries.
Garcia and Spencer each caught three passes, with Garcia’s 68 receiving yards going for a game-high. McBride threw a completion to eight different receivers, two each going to Bryant and Smith.
The Raiders (4-4, 3-1 SAC) will play their final road game of the season next Friday at Lee County High School.
The Yellow Jackets (6-1, 2-1 SAC) suffered their first loss of the season to Pinecrest High School on Friday. Last season, the Raiders earned a 34-7 win over Lee County.
The Richmond Observer will publish a preview article for next Friday’s away game later in the week.
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_.