The Richmond Spartans struggled to find their rhythm early on both offense and defense in their 2009 season opener Friday night on Tom Adams Field at Spartan Stadium. Meanwhile the visiting Lawson Cardinals, ranked No. 4 in Class 2, found their rhythm early to build a 17-0 lead, but had to battle to hold on for a 24-14 victory.
The Cardinals took advantage of three Richmond turnovers (one fumble and a pair of interceptions) and used the legs of running back Devin Mellon who pounded through the Spartan defense for 167 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 20 carries. Lawson piled up 246 yards on the ground, while quarterback Taylor Akey completed 4 of 7 passes for 64 more yards.
Meanwhile the Richmond offense was struggling early and managed just 86 yards in the first half, but ended the night with 164 yards on the ground and 46 through the air. The Lawson offense put up 155 yards of its offense in the first two quarters, but the Spartan defense – like the offense picked up the pace in the second half.
“I’d like to say there was some huge halftime adjustment, and we went in and came up with a miracle cure,” Richmond Coach Rob Bowers said. “We just came out and ran the same things, but we just ran them better and got some momentum going.”
Some of that momentum came from a Lawson special teams miscue late in the first half as the Cardinals held a 17-0 lead. Lawson built its lead by scoring on its first possession – a five-play, 53-yard drive – with Mellon finding the end zone on a 20-yard burst off left tackle. An 18-yard field goal from Garrison Green 10 plays following a Spartan fumble on their next possession, gave Lawson a 10-0 lead late in the opening period.
The Cards cashed in another Richmond turnover – an interception by Cole Hill deep in Spartan territory – to set up Mellon’s 10-yard run touchdown a play later for a 17-0 cushion for the visitors.
Late in the first half, Lawson dropped back in punt situation, but the snap to Green was low. By the time the Cardinal punter corralled the ball, Richmond’s Aaron Goodman had him wrapped up at the Lawson 11-yard line. Four plays later, quarterback Colby Bowles crashed in from the one for the first Spartan touchdown of the season, and Trent Dial split the uprights for the conversion to cut the visitor’s halftime lead to 17-7.
Both teams moved the ball in the third quarter, but could not dent the scoreboard. Richmond began a scoring drive late in that frame and moved the ball 48 yards on 11 plays – with Arthur Bivines racing around the right end from 4 yards out, pulling the home team within a field goal with 11:02 left in the game.
“The kids did a nice job fighting back after getting down,” Bowers said. “It would have been easy to just shut it down, but they didn’t do that. We’re going to be a good football team, but we’ve got to get some things corrected.”
Lawson had trouble putting the Spartans away as the next Cardinal drive ended with Bowles recovering a Mellon fumble on the Richmond one-yard line. However, just four plays later, the Cardinals came up with another interception to set up the clincher as Zac Mathews found an opening around the left end and scored from 5 yards out with 4:22 left in the game.
Richmond could not get another first down on its final possession and the Cardinals ran out the clock.
Bowles ended the night with 83 yards rushing on 15 carries, and completed 4 passes for 46 yards. Jake Vandiver and Kane Southwick had two receptions each. Bivines ran for 50 yards on 16 carries.
The Spartans open MRVC East play Friday as they travel to Holden to meet the defending league champion Eagles. The Eagles fell at home to Warsaw 34-31 in their opener.
PHOTO: Spartan running back Jamal Robinson (5) looks for room around the Lawson Cardinal defense during Friday night’s 2009 season opener. The Lawson Cardinals won the Ray County showdown 24-17 at Spartan Stadium. (Photo by Russ Green/The Daily News)