The Richmond Hill Wildcats hosted the Effingham County Rebels Friday and got sucker punched 24-20 en route to their third consecutive loss. The Wildcats nearly pulled out a win on a 92-yard drive late in the 4th quarter but came up three yards short of the winning touchdown as time expired on the clock.
The Wildcats drew first blood with 4:38 left in the first quarter and scored on a five-yard run by running back Elisha Polite. The point after was good by Jonathan Seale, giving the Wildcats a temporary 7-0 lead. The Rebels came back on their next possession and scored, knotting the game at 7-7.
The Wildcats got the ball back and drove the field to the Rebels eight-yard line before turning the ball over on downs. A 94-yard touchdown run put the Rebels on top 14-7 with five minutes left in the half.
Two plays later, in an exchange of big plays, Wildcat running back Ronnie Harris broke several tackles and bulled his way 72-yards for a Wildcat score. The extra point by Seale put the score at 14-14 before halftime Homecoming festivities began.
Unlike the last two games, where the offense struggled to move the ball, the Wildcats moved the ball with relative ease, with Harris gaining 131 yards on the ground in the first half, Polite getting 20 yards and quarterback Xavier Bryant-Long running for 55-yards.
Along with a successful ground game, the first half saw seven penalties assessed against the Wildcats, including at least one pass interference call that drew boos and from the home crowd who apparently didn’t see the same play as the field referees.
A third quarter field goal by the Rebels put the score at 17-14 with seven minutes left in the third quarter.
After the Wildcats turned the ball over on downs, safety Aaron Chick intercepted a Rebel pass giving the ‘Cats first and 10 in Rebel territory. After a James McQuown touchdown run was called back because of a Wildcat penalty for a block below the belt, running back Ronnie Harris took the ball in for a score, his second of the day. The extra point was no good and the Wildcats were on top 20-17.
The final score of the night came with 14 seconds left in the third when the Rebels scored, bringing the score to 24-20.
The Wildcats offense again moved the ball at will and a score was called back because of a holding penalty against the Cats.
The defense, again led by Chick, stopped a fourth quarter drive on the Rebel six yard line, setting the stage for an unlikely Wildcat finish. Bryant drove his team downfield, in part, on his run of 25-yards and a 10-yard pass completion. With time ticking away, the Wildcats fought their way to the Rebel 3-yard line. Xavier put the ball in the air several times looking for a receiver in the end zone but couldn’t find one.
Time expired with the Wildcats nine feet from victory.
Buoyed by a stout defense, the Wildcats offense gained 78 second half yards on the ground and 18 yards through the air, ending up with a game total of 284 yards on the ground and 18 through the air. They also were assessed five second half penalties.
Wildcat coach Josh Eads was clearly upset after the game, which was delayed starting by 30 minutes for lightning in the area and numerous other times while the Rebel coaches sought clarification on penalty calls.
“We had our chances. This was our game. The big plays killed us,” Eads said.