Richmond Hill Coach Matt LeZotte was far from pleased yet pleased with his team’s performance in its 28-26 win over New Hampstead Friday night at Wildcats Stadium if that makes sense.
“They played about as clean a game as they possibly could play and we played about as poorly a game as we could play and we still won,” LeZotte said. “I feel real good about our team right now.
“We kept them in there. We let them stay in the game like last year but when we needed it the most, we finished it.”
This was only the third meeting between the two schools and all three games have been nail biters which went down to the wire. The Wildcats won last year, 28-27, and in 2019 lost, 21-14, after leading early.
The game saw another outstanding all-around performance turned in by Nick Bliss. The Wildcats scoring machine scored four touchdowns giving him 14 on the season. Bliss entered the game as the second leading scorer in the state in Class 7A and 10th in all classes.
“He’s a tailback playing out of position,” LeZotte said of the senior handyman. “Because of what he can do and because of our running back situation we play him at different positions. He’s a threat any time the ball is in his hands.”
Bliss has scored as a running back, as a receiver, as a kick returner and as a defensive back who scooped up a blocked punt and ran it in for a touchdown. The school record for touchdowns in a single season is 25 by current Tennessee State running back Jalen Rouse who put up his numbers in 2019.
“Jalen didn’t have this many touchdowns at this stage of the season,” LeZotte said. “He really exploded in the post-season.”
Rouse was a key player for the Wildcats (9-4) that season as they reached the Final Four in the Class 6A state playoffs. In addition to his scoring, he also ran for a school record 1,742 years. Rouse had 17 touchdowns in the regular season and added eight in four post-season games.
Against the Phoenix Bliss scored on runs of 10, one and five yards while making an outstanding catch on an 18-yard pass from quarterback Kirk Scott for a touchdown. Blake Williams kicked all four extra points.
In picking up his 50th win at Richmond Hill the ninth-year coach saw two touchdowns called back because of penalties and another long run negated by a penalty, miscues that helped keep a good New Hampstead team hanging around.
Still, thanks to Bliss’s output and a defense which withstood a big night by Phoenix quarterback RaShawn Truell the Wildcats (4-1) were good enough to exceed last year’s win total and send a standing room only Homecoming crowd home happy.
The Wildcats will conclude non-region play 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wildcats Stadium when they take on Coffee County (4-0) which is ranked No. 3 in the state in Class 5A. The Trojans are averaging 34 points per game while allowing nine.
Bliss finished the night with 38 yards on 10 carries and caught four passes for 41 yards. He had 87 all-purpose yards.
Joshua Troupe had 103 yards rushing while Scott completed 4 of 9 passes for 41 yards and added another 59 on the ground. The Wildcats finished with 276 yards rushing as Caleb Easterling added 40 yards and Elijah Blige 36.
After a scoreless first quarter New Hampstead went up 7-0 minutes into the second but Bliss scored from 10 yards out with 22 seconds on the clock to deadlock it at the half.
Bliss went to make a twisting mid-air catch of Scott’s well thrown ball for a 14-7 lead on the opening drive of the second half. New Hampstead then drove 80 yards but missed the extra point and was forced to play catchup from that point on.
The teams traded touchdowns in the fourth quarter with Bliss’s 5-yard run putting the Wildcats up 28-19 with 5:27 to play. The Phoenix scored two minutes later but Richmond Hill was able to run out the clock.
Truell was forced to go to the air as the Phoenix could manage only 20 yards rushing on 12 carries. Under heavy pressure all night he threw for 303 yards, completing 17 of 32 while being intercepted by Aiden Grant. Jaylen Hampton caught 10 passes for 144 yards. Gabe Bauman’s seven tackles, two for loss, led the Wildcats defense.