Though Richmond Hill’s playoff hopes were dashed with Friday’s 44-30 loss at South Effingham, the Wildcats still have plenty of motivation for their final three games of the season.
Richmond Hill slipped to 3-4 overall and 2-4 in Region 3-AAAAA. Even if the Wildcats win their final two region games, they are too far back in the standings to overcome three teams that have only one region loss and two others with two losses in the race for 3-AAAAA’s four playoff spots.
However, RHHS head coach Matt LeZotte sees the potential to finish the season strong and build toward next year.
“Our next three games present tremendous opportunities for our football program,” he said.
That begins with the chance to win Richmond Hill’s homecoming game against Brunswick (1-6, 0-5) Friday night. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Wildcat Stadium.
The following week, the Wildcats will look to pull an upset of region leader Coffee (7-1, 5-1) in their final road game of the year. RHHS will end the season with a non-region home game against Liberty County (5-3).
Three straight victories would give the Wildcats a winning record for the season. Richmond Hill at least is guaranteed to finish better than last year’s 2-8 record.
“The chance to improve to 6-4 this season would be a great feat considering where the program was a year ago,” LeZotte said. “I’m proud of our guys and our hard work. We are still looking to put it all together and make something special happen these last three weeks.”
Richmond Hill trailed South Effingham (6-1, 4-1) only 16-7 before the game changed dramatically in the final 7 seconds of the first half.
South Effingham’s Patrick Brown took a hand-off, with the intention of running out the clock, but found a crease and shot through the RHHS defense for a 54-yard touchdown run as time expired. The score gave the Mustangs a 16-point cushion at halftime on their way to the 44-30 win.
“We’re just a very young team,” LeZotte said. “They’re benefiting from having the age on their side, and we’re the exact opposite.”
Brown’s 4-yard touchdown run just two minutes into the second half pushed South Effingham’s lead to 30-7, and senior quarterback Tyler Pullum lofted a perfectly thrown fade pass for T.J. Williams for a 39-yard score on the next possession.
“Any time you can break something on a last play, that kills the momentum they might have going into the half,” SEHS head coach Donnie Revell said. “And on top of that, getting the ball and being able to do something with it takes something out of them. But tribute to them — they kept fighting.”
Down 37-7, the Wildcats started to chip away at the deficit. Brian Hughes’ 45-yard ramble set up his 6-yard touchdown run with 9:41 left to play.
Tyler Milbradt blocked Sheldon Froeliech’s punt, setting up the Wildcats at the Mustang 14-yard line. That led to Hughes’ 20-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Bedgood.
Richmond Hill then recovered the onside kick, leading to Hughes’ 1-yard TD run with 1:10 to play.
“It’s a tribute to their staff and their kids that they never quit,” Revell said of the Wildcats. “They fought hard. The Hughes kid is a great athlete and made some great plays.”
Hughes led the Wildcats with 111 rushing yards andtwo touchdowns on 24 carries.
The junior quarterback also completed 9 of 20 passes for 92 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
LeZotte was encouraged by his team’s determination in the final quarter, scoring three touchdowns in just more than eight minutes.
“We continue to fight, crawl back, and I couldn’t be more proud of the guys’ effort late in the game,” he said.
The Wildcats’ night took a bad turn on the first snap from scrimmage, when a mishandled exchange gave the Mustangs the ball at the Richmond Hill 14.
That led to the first of Brown’s five touchdowns.
South Effingham also picked off Hughes twice in the second half.
“We’re where South Effingham was two years ago, so we’re bound to make some mistakes and do some silly things,” LeZotte said.
Bedgood rushed seven times for 48 yards and caught four passes for 38 yards and a touchdown. Sam James had a team-high five catches for 34 yards to go with his interception and four tackles on defense.
Like James, Kywann Green intercepted a pass and returned it 35 yards. Green led the RHHS defense with 15 tackles, including eight solo stops.
Effingham Herald editor Patrick Donahue contributed to this story.