GUYTON - Richmond Hill is moving toward the kind of effort they had hoped to put together all along - the bad news is the sub-region competition is here and they are running out of time. A 17-7 loss at South Effingham now has the Wildcats at 1-5 overall and 0-1 in Region 3-AAA South.
A series of critical plays that did not go the Wildcats way made the difference.
After the Wildcats got the opening kick off at their own 20-yard line, Tyler Mitchell took an option pitch from Xavier Owens and scampered down the Wildcat sideline with nothing but grass between him and the goal line in the distance. He was ruled to have stepped out of bounds; the play came back to the 37 and the drive stalled.
Richmond Hill's defense forced South Effingham to punt on their first possession of the game, but on the Wildcats next possession a botched pitch attempt was recovered by the Mustangs at the Wildcat 12, giving them the first break of the night. South Effingham's Frank Manker scored three plays later from 5 yards out and Chris Zittrouer's extra point kick made it 7-0. Another critical Wildcat missed opportunity would follow.
Senior Fullback Sean Milligan broke a long 60-yard gain up the middle of the field to set the Cats up at the Mustang 15. Again they were unable to move the ball further; and Zach Alltop's field goal try sailed just wide right of the goal posts.
Richmond Hill's defense forced another three and out on the next series but a long punt flipped the field and Richmond Hill started going backward on a series of sacks and fumbles. Finally Richmond Hill's Milligan was forced to punt from his own end zone and the Mustangs returned the kick to the Richmond Hill 25.
This time the Mustang fullback, Gage Marks, did the damage and scored from the 1 yard line. Zittrouer's extra point kick and then a 49 yard field goal by the senior kicker on the Mustangs next possession put his team up 17-0 going to the locker room and had the Wildcat coaching staff wondering what it was going to take.
Offensive co-ordinator Wade Wright sees the team as "still trying to figure it out... and not having all eleven players executing on every play" when commenting on the first half turnovers and miscues.
Head Coach Brian Brocato was frustrated that penalties came in to play as much as they did, but his teams second half play - especially the defense - found him quite "pleased" with the effort.
"This is one of the top teams in the sub-region and we played with them. We could have won this game 20 or 24 to 17 if we have a few things go our way" he said.
That defense held the Mustangs to just 50 yards of offense and two first downs as they effectively shut out the Mustangs the whole second half. Linebacker Nathan Kilburn, who is among the coastal empires leaders in tackles, had his number called a lot along with Kevin Bodaford and Danny Harmon. Defensive linemen David Carter, Manny Garcia and Caleb Brewer had good nights as well. Brewer had a fumble recovery in the second half. They gave their team a chance to get back in the game, but again the Wildcat offense couldn't overcome other circumstances.
Richmond Hill's first drive of the third quarter chewed up clock and garnered four first downs, they even used a, "Fridge" set, to pick up a, fourth and short, first down that had the 6'4", 270 pound Brewer lined up at fullback. But after getting all the way to the 4-yard line a penalty and a sack of Owens forced another field goal try.
This time Alltop's line drive kick was low.
On the next possession Owens made a nifty zig-zag run for 70 yards and an apparent score. This time a clipping penalty 20 yards behind Owens turned the run in to a long first down. Undeterred, the Wildcats continued the march but only to have Owens fumble the ball over to the Mustangs at the 17.
Both teams exchanged turnovers again, and finally Zach Denney took an Owens pitch to the end zone on a 31 yard touchdown run.
Alltop's extra point kick was good but there were only a few minutes remaining in the game, not enough time for the Wildcats to catch up.
The Mustangs improved to 5-1, 1-0 in the sub-region. The Wildcats will travel to Liberty County next week, and hope to put together two complete halves against the Panthers, who were 20-7 losers to Burke County on Friday.