By MIKE DAVIS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
ABINGDON, Va. —
The Blue Tornado inched closer to getting their ninth consecutive Southwest District title Friday night with a win over the Abingdon Falcons. Richlands opened up a lead in the final 14 minutes of the game scoring 28-unaswered points to establish their case for the district crown spearheaded by a three touchdown effort by Michael Horton.
The Blue Tornado (8-1, 3-0) handed the Falcons (4-4) their fourth loss of the season with a 35-6 win playing in Abingdon for their final road game of the regular season. Richlands finished the evening with 407 total offense.
“We had some things in the first half that we didn’t capitalize on,” Richlands head coach Greg Mance said. “We were out of synch and the penalties took us out of it.”
“Michael Horton came out in the second half and everyone was teeing off on Colton Staten and Michael got some big runs and I can’t say enough about our (offensive) effort in the second half.”
The game started like a meticulous prize fight with two experienced fighters carefully sparring toe-to-toe. Both teams exchanged punts before Richlands got their second possession at their own 1-yard line.
The Tornado kept the ball on the ground with Eric Johnson powering his way to the 7-yard line before Colton Staten ran ahead 11 yards to the Tornado 19-yard line. Six plays later, the Falcon defense held the Blues forcing a punt on fourth-and-3.
Abingdon committed the unthinkable and muffed the Richlands punt and the Tornado recovered the ball and took over at the Falcon 38-yard line. Ben Brown handed off to Staten for a five yard gain on second down before hitting Josh Doud for an 8-yard pass to the Abingdon 25-yard line.
Staten got the call for an 11-yard burst, then, Brown dropped back and hit Doud on a timing pattern in the right corner of the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown with 4:17 showing on the first quarter clock. Brown added the point after to push the Blues in front, 7-0.
The game went back into careful mode and neither team threatened the remainder of the first quarter and most of the second. Abingdon got on the score board just before the end of the half when Mitchell Ludwig nailed a 44-yard field goal with 1:10 left in the opening half. Richlands drove the ball 50 yards in the final minute of the game before a 49-yard field goal attempt fell short.
The third quarter was scoreless for nearly nine minutes before Ludwig split the uprights with another distance field goal, this time from 45 yards away. The effort pulled the Falcons within a point of tying the game with both defenses flexing their stubbornness.
The Tornado bench called for a change in their offensive backfield and put Michael Horton in at quarterback in a wildcat style set. The Blues started at their own 20-yard line and Horton called his own number on the option and cut behind his blockers for an 18-yard ramble.
Staying with the no huddle, the Horton gave the ball to Staten who broke into the Falcon backfield for a 60-yard sprint to the Abingdon 2-yard line before being hauled down from behind.
Two plays later, Horton bowled in for a 2-yard score with 2:10 on the third quarter clock.
Abingdon, still very much in the game, started at their own 30-yard line and began to pick their way up field.
Quarterback Tyler Arnold found Justin Vance for a 10-yard completion moving the chains for a first down. Two plays later, Jonathan Head had a 13-yard burst to the Falcon 45-yard line before yellow flags stopped the forward motion. Abingdon had gotten to midfield before penalties took them back to their own 30-yard line.
The Falcons went back to the air and a crucial mishap changed momentum of the game. Richlands’ Staten came unannounced and picked off an Abingdon pass and ran it back to the Falcon 23.
It took the Blues two plays to cash in when Horton took the snap and ran 15 yards for a touchdown. Brown kicked his third of five extra points to give Richlands a 21-6 edge.
Abingdon turned the ball over after a missed field goal and the Blues scored in 11 plays aided by a 33-yard pass completion from Horton to Todd McGlothlin. The score came on an 8-yard run by Chandler Click with 4:43 to go in the game.
Horton picked off an Abingdon pass on the Falcons ensuing possession at the 37-yard line and ran it back for Richlands fifth touchdown of the game to seal the deal.
Brown finished the game with 90 yards passing for the Tornado completing 5-of-14 attempts with an interception and a touchdown. Staten carried the ball 22 times for 181 yards as the workhorse of the Blues ground game and Horton carried the ball eight times for 30 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
The Richlands defense held Abingdon to 23 yards rushing on the night and 92 passing.
“Hats off to our defense,” Mance said. “They played hard for four quarters and did a tremendous job and our special teams did a great job.”
The Tornado will have a bye week next Friday before returning to action on November 2 when they play host to Tazewell.
At Falcon Stadium
Richlands..............................7 0 7 21 — 35
Abingdon...............................0 3 3 0 — 6
R – Doud 14 yard pass from Brown (Brown kick)
A – Ludwig 44-yard FG
A – Ludwig 45-yard FG
R – Horton 2-yard run (Brown kick)
R – Horton 15-yard run (Brown kick)
R – Click 8-yard run (Brown kick)
R – Horton 37-yard interception return (Brown kick)