HOLLY SPRINGS — Not one, but two overtime periods were required to decide the winner of Friday’s first round North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4A East playoff game between No. 25 Richmond and No. 8 Holly Springs.
Despite a lead late in the fourth quarter, and notching a pair of field goals in the extra periods, the Raiders’ upset bid came up short by three points.
What head coach Bryan Till called an all-out team effort, Richmond saw its season come to an end with a 36-33 defeat.
Playing on the road to start the postseason for the first time since 2013, the Raiders made a first-round exit for the second time in the last six seasons.
Each team leaned a different way on offense, as the Raiders used their running game to collect 182 of their 292 yards of total offense. Holly Springs passed the ball more, getting 347 yards through the air to their -8 yards on the ground.
“Overall, the kids played their hearts out,” Till said after the emotional loss. “Their quarterback made some amazing throws and they had some good catches late. Just tiny, tiny windows with our guys all over them.
“We hit them in the mouth early and established the physical tone we wanted to. We felt like we were doing what we had to do to win, but (Holly Springs) responded as the game kept going.”
The Raiders set that tone from the opening kickoff, starting with a 38-yard return by senior Jamarion Bryant to start at the Richmond 46-yard line. A pair of offsides penalties, just six total infractions called against Holly Springs during the game, gave Richmond 10 free yards.
Senior quarterback Emoni McBride broke the scoreless game eight plays later, stutter-stepping his way in from 2-yards out on a keeper.
Helping move the ball down field with two first down runs was senior running back Taye Spencer, who finished with a game-high 138 rushing yards on 25 carries.
Sophomore Billy West connected on the first of his two extra-point attempts to give Richmond a 7-0 lead halfway through the opening stanza.
The defense came to play early, too, revved up by a sack on Holly Springs’ second play from scrimmage. Senior defensive end Ethan Clayton came off the edge and sacked quarterback Joel Sheehan, the first of four sacks in the game by Richmond.
Also collecting a sack was sophomore linebacker K’Mauri Morgan, whose stop on second down led to a fourth-down try.
Going for it on 4th-and-14 at Richmond’s 31-yard line, Sheehan completed a pass to Jordon Gillis, but senior nose tackle Urijah McDonald wrapped him up short of the sticks.
After a series of punts by both teams, the Golden Hawks tied the game with 7:04 left in the second quarter. Braedan King ran it in from four yards and the extra point made it 7-7.
Special teams played a role in Richmond’s next set of points, started by senior punter Luke McCormick, who punted on the next drive and pinned Holly Springs at its 18-yard line.
Two plays into the drive, a high snap sailed into the end zone. Sheehan recovered it but Morgan and McDonald were there for the safety to make it a 9-7 lead for the Raiders.
Taking advantage of the momentum, Richmond took the ensuing kickoff and scored on a 7-play, 47-yard scoring march. Spencer collected 27 yards on the ground and an 8-yard catch from sophomore wide receiver Raymond Knotts helped get the ball into the red zone.
McBride connected with junior wide receiver Linden Garcia on second down from 13 yards in the back left corner of the end zone with 30.5 ticks on the clock.
West added the PAT and the Raiders would take a 16-7 lead into the break.
Richmond was outscored 20-11 in the second half, and a roughing the kicker call on a punt by Holly Springs, one of a dozen penalties for 120 yards by Richmond, gave the home team new life on its first drive of the third quarter.
A defensive pass interference call helped the Golden Hawks keep the drive going, which ended in a 17-yard touchdown pass from Sheehan to Matthew Bland. After the extra point, Richmond led 16-14.
Holly Springs would take its first lead of the game 1:12 later after a three-and-out by Richmond. Sheehan (27-of-41, 347 yards, 2 TDs) hit Addison Carlson for a 43-yard catch-and-run score.
Down 21-16 with half of the third quarter gone, McBride and the Raider offense responded to retake the lead on the ensuing drive. Six straight running plays split between Spencer, McBride, junior Jaliel Green and freshman Jay Hamilton got Richmond to the 14-yard line.
A throw over the middle to Knotts (3 catches, team-high 30 yards) set up first and goal from the 1-yard line, which saw Green break to his right and score on the next snap.
Going for the two-point conversion, McBride made an athletic play and dove inside the front left pylon on a broken play to give the Raiders a 24-21 lead with 1:11 left in the third.
McDonald recorded his second sack of the game on the next drive, but both offenses went stagnant for the majority of the fourth quarter.
The Golden Hawks used a 24-yard field goal from Connor Bost to tie the game with 3:25 to go.
West wouldn’t be outdone, as he finished Richmond’s next drive with a 29-yard field goal that gave the Raiders a 27-24 lead with 44.9 ticks left.
Holly Springs forced overtime with a 33-yard game-tying field goal by Bost with 1.2 seconds left in regulation.
Per high school overtime rules, each team got a possession and four downs starting at their opponents’ 10-yard line. Richmond’s defense played first and with the help of a pass break up by senior Messiah Shaw, Bost had to kick a 25-yard field goal.
That started a kicking battle, as West answered the call for the Raiders on their drive with a 22-yard chip shot.
Richmond got the ball on offense to start the second overtime tied at 30 points, and unable to punch it into the end zone, West rang true on his third field goal of the game, a 25-yarder to put the Raiders up by three points.
But a pass interference call against the defense made it 1st-and-goal from the 5-yard line for the Golden Hawks, who used a William Picquet 1-yard rushing score two plays later to end the game.
“I don’t understand how (Holly Springs) can drop back and throw the ball that many times and not get a single holding penalty,” Till said. “I don’t understand it being that one-sided, but it’s our job from keeping it that way.”
No. 8 Holly Springs (9-2) advanced and will play No. 9 Pine Forest High School (9-2) in the second round.
Richmond finished its season with a 5-6 overall record, just the second time since its inaugural campaign in 1972 that the team had a sub-.500 record. The other time was in 1973 when the Raiders had a 4-5-1 record.
In Sandhills Athletic Conference play, Richmond secured a tie for second place with Scotland High School, notching a 4-2 mark. This year snapped a four-year reign by the Raiders at the top of the conference standings.
One of the team’s most crucial victories in its 11 games was a 35-33 win over Lee County in Week 9, keeping its postseason and possible conference championship hopes alive.
Despite starting 0-3 for the first time in the program’s history, the Raiders railed to win five of their last seven games. On offense, Richmond averaged 24.5 points per game and allowed 28.2 points per game on defense.
Friday’s loss marked the final high school game for 22 senior players.
“The biggest growth has been seeing these kids continue to understand situations and get better,” Till closed. “We scored 14 points in our first three games (combined) and finished with 33 points tonight.
“They continued to understand what we were trying to do and we know we have to do a better job at finishing plays.
“The devotion tonight asked why we play the game and who we play for. And for us as coaches, we do it for the kids. We love them, we’re so proud of them and so blessed to have the opportunity the Lord gives us to be next to them.”
The Richmond Observer will publish an article when the 2022 All-Sandhills Athletic Conference team is announced.