By MIKE DAVIS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
RICHLANDS, Va. —
The Richlands football team knows the feeling of being snake bit with a loss in the final minutes of a game after holding a lead.
Richlands had learned that lesson earlier in the season after posting a lead in the final minutes against Union, only to have their celebration turn sour when they lost the lead on a last minute touchdown by the Bears.
“In the Union game, I think the kids learned from that, we just self-destructed,” Richlands head coach Greg Mance said. “We didn’t line up right, we snapped the ball where it should not have been, we ran wrong routes and we didn’t execute at the end of the game and we learned from that.”
Last Friday, Richlands had an opportunity to turn the tables against visiting Abingdon and took their only lead of the night with 9-yard touchdown pass from River Michaels to Ben Brown in the corner of the end zone with eight seconds on the clock.
“Going back (earlier in the season) we were behind against Graham and had to drive back to score,” Mance said. “Then against Abingdon, we had another one go our way and one thing you can say about our kids is that they found a way to win when the odds were stacked against them.”
The Blue Tornado will go on the road tonight to Lebanon to take on the Pioneers for another district game. Lebanon is coming off an overtime win against Virginia High last week after Nick Agri scored in the overtime period on a 4-yard run.
“Lebanon went on the road and won at Virginia High so that tells you what kind of football team they have,” Mance said. “When we played Virginia High, we were up by three points going into the fourth quarter here at home, so (against Lebanon) it’s going to be a game of big plays and turnovers.”
Richlands hasn’t played the Pioneers since 2010 when the Tornado completed a two-game sweep across two years including 2009.
“Lebanon is going to be fired up, the kids have known each other since Little League and we haven’t played them in a while, so that adds a little fuel to the fire,” Mance said. “We expect them to come out and play a very good football game.
“They’re 4-4 and I think they’re tied for 16th in the playoffs and we’re sixth. They’ve got some good football players that can flat out fly.”
One of the players the Blues will have to account for is Ben Sexton, spearheading the Pioneers ground game. Sexton carried the ball seven times for 108 yards a week ago against the Bearcats.
“The Sexton kid can fly, he runs the option, the inside-outside veer and we’ve not seen the option this year so that’s a major concern for us,’ Mance said. “Our defense is going to have to be disciplined. One kid is going to have to be on the dive and one on the quarterback and one on the pitch.
“Then, if one kid misses his assignment, it’s going to be a big play. It’s going to be a challenge for our defense because it kind of slows you down when you see the option.”
Sexton has the speed to get outside and take it to the end zone so Mance said the Blue Tornado will be focused on him.
“Lebanon also gives you a lot of looks and options and they have athletes with size, they’re quick,” Mance said. “With the speed that Sexton has, we have to keep him from getting to the edge because he can fly and we’ve not seen anyone that can run him down and they surround him with great athletes.”
Richlands was able to take advantage of a bye week prior to the win over Abingdon to get such players as River Michaels, Colton Staten and Anthony Cordle healthy for the stretch run, and all three played big as the Blues pulled out the win over the Falcons.
“I’m really proud of the way the offense came out and played at the end of the game,” Mance said. “They didn’t come out with any enthusiasm and we looked up in the stands and it was the worse attended home game in a long time and it was a dead atmosphere and the longer Abingdon stayed in the game the better they got.
“I thought we played well on offense the last six or seven minutes of the game and if it hadn’t been for our defense in the first half, we’ve gone in at halftime down 21 points.”
Mance is hoping for a typical Richlands following tonight to face the Pioneers, which isn’t what he saw in the home game with Abingdon.
“Our kids feed off our crowd and we call them our 12th man and the more noise they make the better they play,” Mance said. “Our kids came out and it was one of the deadest atmosphere I’ve seen in a while and that’s about the way we played.
“It’s important for us to take a big crowd with us tonight.”