Richmond Hill made a boatload of mistakes in its season opener at Effingham County last week and was able to escape with a 34-7 win because it was simply a better team.
The Wildcats took a major step up in competition on Friday night when they took on defending Class 5A state champion and No. 1 ranked Ware County and the Gators did what good teams do: they took advantage of every Richmond Hill mistake and posted a 28-7 win in an extremely physical game.
In winning its 16th straight game and pushing its all-time record against Richmond Hill to 9-0 the Gators scored three of their touchdowns following Wildcats turnovers.
“We’re an extremely physical team but we made too many mistakes,” Coach Matt LeZotte said. “We’re the more physical team and lose…
“Everything was given (to Ware) on a silver platter. We’ve got to get better but kudos to Ware for capitalizing on our mistakes. That’s what good teams do. If we’re going to be elite, we can’t make those mistakes.”
Ware Coach Jason Strickland said the game was everything he anticipated.
“This game was a bloodbath,” Strickland said. “It was very physical. There’s no secret what they’re going to do.
“They’re going to line up and try and bloody your nose and you can either stand in there and take it or bow out quick.”
The Gators chose not to bow out and got their first break early and then with a couple of Wildcats assists they went 81 yards to take an early 7-0 lead.
After forcing a Gators punt on the game’s first possession the Wildcats had driven to the Ware 19 when quarterback Kirk Scott fumbled.
From there Ware marched 81 yards to score on Rj Boyd’s 3-yard run. The Gators got a boost when on a 3rd-and-4 at the 36-yard line Richmond Hill jumped offsides. Four plays later, despite Wildcats coaches yelling warnings of a fake punt, upback Dae’jeaun Dennis took a short snap and ran 17 yards to keep the drive alive.
Ware made it 14-0 with 1:38 left in the half when quarterback Luke Hooks teamed with wide receiver Quintin Orange for a 43-yard score with Orange going high in the air to pull in the touchdown pass.
The Wildcats showed their mettle when they took the second half kickoff and marched 65 yards down the field to close within one score when Kirk Scott and Nick Bliss teamed up on a perfectly executed 22-yard pass.
Bliss was wide open behind the Gators secondary. With no one within 10 yards of him Scott threw a perfect strike which Bliss, who had three touchdowns at Effingham, hauled in without breaking stride.
“Coach (Joe) Scott drew that up,” LeZotte said. “It was a great call and it the kids executed.”
Bliss finished with five catches for 71 yards while Scott completed 10 of 13 passes for 95 yards. Joshua Troupe had 71 yards rushing while Gabe Bauman led the defensive efforts with 10 tackles and a sack. Lee Johnson and Phoenix Emberton had five tackles, three for a loss, each.
Four plays after Bliss’s score Johnson intercepted a Hooks pass at the Wildcats 35. Any momentum to be gained was short-lived, however, as the fizzled out at the Ware 44.
“It looked good for the home team but we couldn’t capitalize,” LeZotte said.
The Wildcats defense held and after a missed Gators field goal Richmond Hill was back in business with 8:56 to play only to see disaster strike.
Scott was scrambling on a first down play at his own 32 when he was stripped from behind and Kendre Standley scooped up the loose ball and streaked 24 yards for a touchdown and a 21-7 lead.
“The fumble recovery was a huge play,” Ware Coach Jason Strickland said. “They had momentum but that play changed the game. It put us up two scores with six and half minutes to go and they had to do some things they’re not comfortable doing.”
Two plays following the ensuing kickoff the Wildcats again fumbled with Ware recovering at the 15. Boyd gained four yards and after Richmond Hill was called for a dead ball personal foul Boyd went two yards to seal the win.