In last year’s season opener at Lawson, a young Richmond Spartan squad proved to be their own worst enemy. The Spartans fumbled the ball seven times and lost three of them, with two of those fumbles leading to a touchdown and another one returned for a score.
As a result of those miscues, the Spartans came out on the short end of a 35-26 decision.
This season, the Spartans are a year older and will host the Cardinals in the 2009 lid-lifter on Tom Adams Field at Spartan Stadium. Richmond is also healthier coming out of the jamboree than they were a year ago, but head coach Rob Bowers said his team will have to avoid the mistakes they made in last year’s meeting.
“They didn’t make mistakes and we did,” he said. “We did play pretty well on both sides of the ball, except for four or five plays. We had four of five turnovers that just killed us. Special teams mistakes and turnovers killed us.”
Both the Cardinals and Spartans return a good dose of letter winners from last year’s teams, with Lawson bringing back 14, and Richmond 17. One of those key returning letter winners for coach Todd Dunn’s Cards is Devin Mellon. Mellon, a two-time state wrestling champion, was the leading rusher for last season’s 9-2 team as well as the leading tackler on defense.
“Offensively he’s a handful,” Bowers said. “He runs hard and we’ve got to get people to the ball to stop him.”
Mellon led the Cardinal tacklers on defense while playing the nose, but this season is making the move to linebacker.
“I’m sure they moved him to linebacker to try to get him in more plays and let him run,” Bowers said. “We’re not going to totally dominate him, but we need to control him and make them use other people to beat us.”
The Richmond offensive line struggled in last week’s jamboree, especially in pass protection, but Bowers feels they are ready for Friday night’s test.
“We just had missed assignments on who to block, but we got that corrected,” he explained. “It wasn’t a situation where we were getting beat physically. Chillicothe ran a five-front and we didn’t spend any time preparing for that because we won’t face that. It confused them. I think they’ll look much better against Lawson.”
The one highlight from last week’s trip to Knob Noster was the play of the defense. Chillicothe’s first play from scrimmage moved them inside the Richmond 5-yard line, but the defense forced the Hornets to use four more plays to finally get in the end zone – the lone score Richmond would give up for the rest of the night.
“Chillicothe got a great play from an all-state player who was pretty well covered on the first play and he made a great catch,” Bowers explained. “After that we didn’t allow anyone else to score. We expect to be better defensively. I think they’ll play hard – know where they are supposed to line up and get after it.”
The lone question mark heading into Friday’s 7 p.m. kickoff is the only untested unit for both sides – special teams, which have not face live action either in the team scrimmages, or the jamborees. Richmond will have a new long-snapper for the first time in four years, a new kicker, a new punter and a new holder.
However, Bowers is confident they will be just fine.
“Our special team skill people are all completely new,” he said. “The good news is I feel like we have better athletes who we can put on special teams and that will help. We definitely have to take care of business on the new people. It’s nerve-racking going in and not seeing them under the gun before, hopefully they will do as good as they have in practice and we’ll be fine.”