CLINTWOOD, Va. — A day after Richlands head football coach Thad Wells resigned as head football coach of the Blue Tornado program, longtime assistant coach Jeff Tarter took the whistle and shepherded the Blues through an emotional rollercoaster of a plus-one postseason game at remote Ridgeview High School in Dickenson County.
The Saturday afternoon game, which was considered a consolation match-up for both opponents due to the COVID shortened regular season and condensed playoff format ironically morphed into what may very well become Richlands’ most-discussed contest of the 2021 spring season.
Down 28-0 with three minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Blue Tornado (3-4) roared back to life with an offensive comeback rally that began with quarterback Gavin Cox’s 3-yard touchdown run just before the half and ended with Richlands leading 34-31 after a Cox 1-yard scoring sneak with 8:19 remaining to play. A 5-yard scoring run by Wolfpack running back Trenton Adkins recouped a 38-34 lead with 4:54 on the clock.
The Richlands threat remained viable until a Brandon Beavers interception of a Cox pass attempt at the 1-yard line stopped the Blues’ final possession. Adkins got the ball out of harm’s way with an 18-yard scramble and Ridgeview rode down the clock to seal the 38-34 victory.
The Blue Tornado were unable to play Graham in a previously scheduled rematch last week due to COVID contact tracing putting the G-Men in quarantine. Richlands instead played at Radford, receiving a 42-0 thrashing.
Saturday’s second half surge didn’t take away all of the sting for a storied Southwest District football program accustomed to being an alpha wolf in its own right. But it certainly was a morale booster for a program that had recently been cast adrift in uncertainty.
Wells, who was named head coach of the Blue Tornado program in March of 2020 tendered his resignation on Friday after having received an offer to join the coaching staff in an offensive capacity at the University of Virginia. Upon accepting the job, he was expected to report to work in Charlottesville, Va. on Monday. He was not with the team in Ridgeview on Saturday.
After an effort to reach Wells by phone, the Richlands player alumnus responded with a text message that indicated he was with his family.
“The players and coaches were such a joy to be around every day,” the text message statement read.
“Having the opportunity to coach at my alma mater and to spend this year with the amazing people in the Richlands community has been a huge blessing for my family. It’s just such a special place. The community support has been outstanding. I’m very grateful,” Wells’ message concluded.
In Saturday’s game, Cox gave up three interceptions on the day, but Richlands’ big signal-caller also completed 22-of-39 pass attempts for 222 yards and a touchdown. He finished with 30 yards net rushing, including touchdown runs of 3, 1 and 1 yards.
Division I prospect Sage Webb led Richlands receivers with nine catches for 70 yards. Noah Spencer finished with five catches for 81 yards, including a 6-yard TD reception. Dylan Brown (4-31), Jake Altizer (3-33) and Drew Simmons (1-7) also helped keep the chains moving on Richlands’ ball-control passing attack.
Dylan Brown rushed for 32 yards, including a 7-yard scoring run.
The Blue Tornado special teams executed two successful onsides kick attempts during the comeback surge. Spencer gathered up kicker Isaiah Bandy’s first onsides kick, a recovery that resulted in a Blues scoring drive. After that touchdown, Bandy launched another high one off the tee which Evan McNerlin recovered at the Ridgeview 31-yard line. That play late in the third quarter led to Brown’s score and Bandy’s PAT that closed the gap to 28-31.
Adkins led the Wolfpack rushing attack 146 yards on 25 carries, scoring three touchdowns — including the game-winner. Quarterback Nick Phillips, who was injured very late in the game, rushed for 143 yards in 10 carries. He passed for 67 yards and a score.