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A few points short: Wildcats battle elements, can’t finish in region test at Statesboro
Zion Gilliard
Zion Gilliard runs the ball in game at Statesboro - photo by Gerald Thomas III

STATESBORO, GA -- A win seemed probable for the Richmond Hill Wildcats (1-4, 1-1 Region 2-6A) late in their game at Statesboro (3-2, 1-0 Region 2-6A), but they couldn’t keep their foot on the Blue Devils in their 27-21 loss.

Late turnovers and wet footballs would be the reason for this shortcoming.

The Wildcats got first dibs at the ball, putting together a 60-yard drive the Blue Devils’ 20.

It came to an end once they went for a 4th and 2, turning the ball over on downs for the Blue Devils beginning their first drive.

“It was just execution,” Wildcats Head Coach Matt LeZotte said after the game. “We just got to execute and play better. It’s not ability. We clearly got to make sure we’re in the correct spot at the right time and finish drives.”

The Blue Devils got the ball and managed the clock with their rushing game before striking first on the scoreboard from a Kam Mikell pass to Jordan Lovett with 1:20 left in the first quarter.

After the second quarter began, the Wildcats knotted the game up at 7 when Ty Goldrick completed a 12-yard touchdown pass to Hayden McCullough.

On the ensuing kickoff, Lovett returned the ball for 60 yards, giving his Blue Devils great field position on the Wildcats’ 35.

He would score shortly after, rushing this time and going for a 21-yard touchdown run.

Possessions went by for both teams, whom offenses stalled.

That was until the Wildcats capitalized off stopping a Blue Devils drive as they marched to their 30.

The Wildcats got the ball and made a quick run at the endzone.

First, Goldrick completed a pass to Ravon Grant on a flea flicker call.

Following that play, Zion Gilliard rushed for a 22-yard gain to put the Wildcats on the 10.

Two plays later, Caleb Easterling got a snap and rushed for a 10-yarder to tie the game before the break.

The third quarter came, and this was when the Wildcats would battle the elements of the rain, which started pouring down during halftime.

A little over seven minutes went by during the third quarter with both teams drives stalling until the Wildcats took their first lead of the night off a 17-yard touchdown pass from Goldrick to Grant to go up 21-14.

“We expect to lead,” LeZotte said. “We expect to have the lead the whole game and win.”

On the ensuing kickoff, Jalin Mikell broke a 57-yard kick return, placing the Blue Devils on the Wildcats’ 23.

Despite the good field position, the Blue Devils got no points off the drive, getting to the nine-yard line before being forced to settle for a field goal before it was off target.

The Wildcats held the 21-14 lead going into the fourth quarter.

But turnovers haunted them in the final 12 minutes, being the driving cause for their loss.

First Goldrick fumbled a snap from the shotgun, due to the dampness of the football, leading to the Blue Devils to jump on it on the Wildcats’ 43.

It didn’t take long for the Blue Devils to score, getting to the endzone almost immediately from a 42-yard K. Mikell touchdown scramble to tie the game at 21.

The Wildcats got the ball back to regain the lead, but Goldrick was strip sacked by a swarm of Blue Devil defenders, as they took over on the Wildcats’ 45.

But they didn’t capitalize this time because of a big sack by McCullough which forced them to punt and give the Wildcats the ball deep in their own territory.

Beginning the drive on their own five-yard line, the Wildcats managed to reach the 24, but fumbled again.

“The rain really hurt our guys,” LeZotte said about the weather. “They had some stuff going on too, but they didn’t lose as many as we did but the rain was the evening factor and we didn’t execute at the times that we needed the most.”

This fumble gave the Blue Devils the ball back in favorable field position with 1:49 left in the game.

On the first play of the drive, K. Mikell broke a 21-yard run, putting the Blue Devils within striking distance of a touchdown score, leading to his brother J. Mikell to run in for a 2-yard touchdown score to take the lead and missing the PAT to take a 27-21 lead with 54 seconds left in the game.

Tommy Bliss came up big with the first two catches of the Wildcats’ final possession, moving them down to the Blue Devils’ 35.

Grant also would make his make last drive, keeping the Wildcats alive on a 4th and 4 play with 14 seconds left.

The Wildcats went for two more shots, both going to Grant.

One was tipped and ruled incomplete and the final try at a score fell incomplete in the corner of the endzone, securing the win for the Blue Devils.

“We don’t get too excited or too down when we’re either winning or losing,” LeZotte said. “Our guys are very levelheaded – even right at the end. We were wide open in the endzone. We had a shot.”

The Wildcats have lost four of their first five games going into their third week of region play.

“Tough loss,” LeZotte said. “They clearly had the best player on the field. Very tough to tackle in these conditions. If we want to play better, we got to tackle and we can’t turn the ball over. That was the story line of the game. When you turn the ball over and can’t get a center-quarterback exchange and can’t tackle very well, it makes for a long night against a quarterback like that. We both got really good teams and are well coached. We got to show up to work on Monday and see what type of team we got.”  

They will host Effingham County on Oct. 8 for a region contest.

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