By MIKE DAVIS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
RICHLANDS, Va. —
The Blue Tornado entered Friday nights’ football game with questions marks hanging over their heads with a new face calling the signals. Junior River Michaels had taken over the reigns for an injured Gray Baker at quarterback in the season opener against Gate City.
Michaels took the opportunity with stride and threw for 96 yards completing 4-of-6 passing attempts with a touchdown and ran for 51 yards with four rushing touchdowns in Richlands’ 49-21 win over Gate City on Friday night.
“River did a good job, he stepped up, he threw the ball well and he made some nice reads,” Richlands head coach Greg Mance said. “He made a nice read on an early pass to Griffin McCauley and we saw some good things out of River Michaels.”
“Gate City is very good, they run the ball well. We have some new defensive ends after pulling River Michaels in at quarterback and we have some work to do and Frank Taylor did a good job blocking for us tonight.”
Colton Staten and Ben Brown were also key in the Tornado win with their efforts combining for 241 yards and three touchdowns. Staten carried the ball 19 times for 145 yards and a touchdown and Brown caught three passes for 96 yards and a touchdown, scored on a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown and kicked seven extra points. The first scored of the game came with 8:23 showing on the clock with Michaels picking his way for a 23 yard touchdown capping a 61-yard drive. Brown added his first in a set of extra points.
Gate City took the ball at their own 31-yard line and put the ball on the carpet with Frank Taylor there to recover for Richlands.
The Blue Tornado went to work and Michaels fired a 30-yard completion to Griffin McCauley to move the chains. Staten carried the ball to the 1-yard line on first-and-goal at the 4-yard line before Michaels punched it in with 7:21 left in the first. “I couldn’t do anything without those guys up front,” Michaels said. “The line did a very good job. I had some big shoes to fill, but, Gray (Baker) was on the sideline giving me a lot of help.”
Brown set up Richlands third touchdown of the night after returning a Blue Devils’ punt 43 yards to the Gate City 20-yard line with :10 seconds left in the quarter. Brown followed a no gain on first down with a 19-yard scamper to the 1-yard line before Michaels plunged in for a 1-yard score at the onset of the second quarter.
Gate City drove the ball almost at will on their next possession and took the ball 75 yards in eight plays and Robbie Hicks scored with just over three minutes left in the half on a 13-yard run. Neth Gardner added the points after to cut the Blues lead by 14.
Richlands answered when they took over at their own 39 on the kickoff. The Blue Devils were set to get the ball back to start the second half after deferring at the coin toss creating a need for the Tornado to put another score on the board. They set the game plan in motion beginning with Staten carrying the ball 18 yards on two attempts before Michaels hit Brown down the right sideline for a 34-yard pass to the Blue Devils 9. Staten bulled his way ahead for five yards before Michaels followed the offensive line in from the 4-yard line to push the Blues ahead, 28-7 with a minute left in the half.
“We got behind early and had to play catch up the rest of the night,” Gate City head coach Bill Houseright said. “We’ve got to grow up in a few places. We’re not the type of team that can go out and make silly mistakes, turn the ball over and be successful, we have to take care of the football.”
The Tornado defense came out in the third quarter and forced Gate City to punt on their opening possession. The offense obliged the favor and scored in five plays canvassing 64 yards in under two minutes. Brown went up for a Michaels pass in the right corner of the end zone for a 25-yard completion and touchdown. Hicks put the Blue Devils on the board with just under seven minutes to go in the third when he cut back against the grain on a handoff an broke through the Richlands secondary for a 69-yard run.
The Blues scored twice in the fourth on a 35-yard interception return by Brown and a 33-yard breakaway run by Staten.
“We’ve got to build off of this win,” Mance said. “Gate City is a very good opponent and we’re very fortunate to get out with a win.”
The Blues rolled for 301 total offense on the night with 205 on the ground and the Blue Devils finished with 278 total offense. Hicks ran for 150 yards on 19 carries for three touchdowns for Gate City.
Richlands travels to Union Friday night for a non-district match up and Gate City takes on Abingdon.
At Ernie Hicks Stadium/Emats Field
Gate City...................................0 7 7 7 – 21
Richlands................................14 14 7 14 – 49
R – Michaels 7-yard run (Brown kick)
R – Michaels 1-yard run (Brown kick)
R - Michaels 1-yard run (Brown kick)
G – Hicks 13-yard run (Gardner kick)
R – Michaels 4-yard run (Brown kick)
R – Brown 15-yard Brown from Michaels (Brown kick)
G – Hicks 69-yard run (Gardner kick)
R – Brown 35-yard interception return (Brown kick)
R – Staten 33-yard run (Brown kick)
G – Hicks 1-yard run (Gardner kick)