ROCKINGHAM — As Robert Williams inched his way towards the end zone, the Richmond Senior bench grew louder and louder.
When Williams finally crossed the goal line, his teammates and the Raider fans screamed in delight watching the senior’s 55-yard interception return for a touchdown.
The score not only sealed the 27-18 Southeastern Conference victory for Richmond over Pinecrest, but it also set up a showdown with arch-rival Scotland for the league title next week in Raider Stadium. The Fighting Scots moved to 8-1 on the year and 4-0 in the league with their 35-7 win over Lumberton.
“We needed to make a big play,” Williams said. “People have been talking bad stuff about the defense. We saw online today where someone ranked the top five defenses in the state and we weren’t on it. We know we are one of the top defenses in state.”
Even though Richmond improved to 9-0 on the season and 4-0 in the SEC, the Raiders had trouble corralling Pinecrest quarterback Dwayne Simpson. The senior kept the Patriots in the contest with his running ability. Simpson rushed for a game-high 121 yards and two touchdowns. In the air, Simpson was 8 for 16 for 51 yards and two interceptions.
“We wanted to have a guy spying on him,” Richmond defensive coordinator James Johnson said. “I feel like we should have put it away but we missed some tackles on a kickoff and let them get back in it.”
The sequence Johnson was talking about occurred after Diquon Cox sprinted 3 yards for a touchdown to put the Raiders up 21-11 with 3:59 remaining in the game. The Raiders kept the drive alive by converting a fourth-and-8 at the Pinecrest 30 when Brent Flowers hit Elijah Goodwin for a 27-yard screen pass to move the chains.
“That call was all Coach (Brad) Denson,” Richmond coach Paul Hoggard said. “We felt we had to go for it and I felt good about the play.”
On the ensuing kickoff after Cox’s score, Simpson let the football roll through his legs before picking it up at the Patriot 8. Simpson avoided the first wave of Richmond defenders and broke away for a 74-yard return. Four plays later, Simpson scored from a yard out to trim the Raiders’ lead to three with 1:48 left in the contest.
Even though the Patriots (5-5, 2-2) failed to recover the onside kick, the Raiders were unable to record a first down to clinch the game and punted the ball back to the visitors with 1:13 remaining, setting up Williams’ pick-six.
Despite out-gaining Pinecrest 265-77 in the first half, Richmond only led 14-3 at halftime. The Raiders had two drives end in the red zone and walked way with nothing on the scoreboard after a missed field goal and an interception.
“We left a lot of points out there,” Hoggard said. “We had some high snaps, bobbled snaps that really got us behind the chains tonight. My hats off to Pinecrest. They had a great game plan and played hard.”
In the other SEC contest Friday, Hoke County moved into a tie for third with Pinecrest following its 34-14 victory over Purnell Swett. The Bucks and the Patriots will battle next week for the No. 3 seed.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.