For Randall Boone and his Richmond Hill Middle School football team the second time around was a charm. The Wildcats played an inspired second half in the region championship game at South Effingham to come from behind and beat the undefeated Mustangs 35-28. It was their second consecutive trip to the title game - the first championship for the middle school in fifteen years.
In coach Boone’s perspective, it was a tale of two halves and he challenged them to "go out and play the way they were capable of playing." Clearly the Mustangs were dominating the first half of play and his team was in need of some big plays.
The Wildcats' only first half score came on the opening kick off when Aaron Dixon stripped the ball from the Mustang return man and dashed to the end zone. Incredibly, it was his third such theft this season, but that was as all the offense his teammates could muster. Meanwhile, the defense was allowing the oversized Mustang line to march up and down the field.
By the time the half was coming to a close, South Effingham had scored their third touchdown and led 22-7. The Wildcat second half turnabout would actually start before the half and was led by TJ Franklin.
Franklin took advantage of good field position after the kickoff and broke a 50-yard run around the left end for the touchdown. A faked kick and run for the two point conversion by Blake Cohn made the score 22-15 and put the momentum back on the Wildcat sideline. After the break, it would be the Wildcats controlling the line of scrimmage.
The offensive line, without a returning starter from last year, are: Kyle Stover, Andy Balas, Conner Bloomer, David Katzman, Kevin Linero, Conner Beeson, and Hunter Hadley. Their dominance was evidenced by Boone’s decision to start using the quarterback more to eat up short yardage and the clock.
Cody Morales took over the quarterback job just two weeks ago when J.J. Franklin broke his thumb. Morales, Franklin and Dixon took turns pounding the Mustang line and rolled up four consecutive first downs after another short Mustang kick off. The play to set up the next score would come via the air.
Morales found his tight end Kyle Stover on a first down throw at the five yard line and two plays later Morales took it over from the three. Sarah Goolsby’s, the team's lone female player, extra point kick tied the game at 22 and a new game ensued.
The Mustangs would take the kick off and drive 60 yards to get the lead back, but it required a lot more time as the Richmond Hill defense was beginning to hold their own.
Cohn and Katzman led the charge for the defense that also included Dixon, Franklin, Anthony Nance, Justin Carrillo, Talib Young, Nigel Flynn, Kyle Greening, and Drew Gregerson. The defense stopped the Mustang extra point run and Dixon’s good return on the kickoff would again give the Wildcats good field position near midfield.
Franklin would again take it from there and send the side line in a frenzy with another 50 yard score. This time Goolsby missed what would have been the go ahead extra point kick. It was only her second miss in 14 tries this season. The fourth quarter was winding down and the game was again tied - the game would go to the team that had the most left.
Boone said afterward that his team's averaging 45-50 players in the weight room during the summer would be a major contributing factor to the Wildcats success. The satisfaction of seeing his players dedication to their game and to improving meant more than the actual championship that their dedication was about to win them.
The defense came up with a crucial stop, again at the Wildcats favorite spot on the field when Franklin dropped the Mustang quarterback on third down for a six yard tackle for loss and then the Wildcats recovered a fumble on the fourth down play on the 47-yard line.
Then the player Coach Boone calls his "workhorse", Franklin, made a 12-yard first down run and on the next play was sprung by the blocking of Cohn, Kennard Sutton, and Hadley. Franklin’s wild third touchdown run of the game sealed a championship for the Wildcats and insured Coach Boone that he would have a wet bus ride home - the players dumped their water cooler over his head after the game.
It was the highest offensive output the Wildcats had put together in their 7-1 season against a very talented team in a talent laden region that now has the Bulloch, Effingham, Screven and Burke county middle schools.
Coach Boone thanked all the parents, faculty, students and members of the community for their outstanding support of RH athletics and the now 2007 Richmond Hill Middle School football champions.