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Although they appeared to dominate throughout the evening, the Richmond Spartans let the visiting Savannah Savages hang around and make things a little more interesting than they should have Friday night at Spartan Stadium. However, unlike last season’s meeting in Northwest Missouri, the Spartans were able fight to off the turnover bug and hang on for a 27-18 win over the No. 10 ranked Class 3 Savages.
Last year Richmond turned the ball over 5 times on a rain-soaked field, and Friday night under perfect conditions, the Spartans gave the ball up five more times – four of those in the second half causing Richmond Coach Rob Bowers and his staff a little uneasiness.
“We just made a lot of mistakes in the second half,” Bowers said. “It’s a testament to the kids that they gutted up and played, didn’t get down and did what they had to do to win the football game.”
Two of Richmond’s second-half fumbles came as it appeared the Spartans were getting ready to finish off the visitors with another scoring drive. Each time the defense was called on to make a stop, especially in the fourth quarter, they responded.
“They rose up big two or three times down on our end,” Bowers said. “We gave up some things we don’t want to give up and there’s some things we need to get better at, but I’m really proud of their mental toughness and making the stops when we had to.”
The Spartan defense allowed just 77 rushing yards, which forced Savannah quarterback Justin Roach to throw the ball 42 times for 206 yards on 19 completions.
Richmond, now 2-1, took control of the game early as quarterback Colby Bowles threw for two of his three touchdown passes to spot the Spartans a 14-0 lead. The first scoring strike, a 10-yarder to Luke Hook capped a 54-yard, 8-play drive on Richmond’s second possession of the night. The next Spartan possession took just two plays as Bowles slipped a pass to Jake Vandiver, who used his speed to outrace the Savannah defense down the field for a 62-yard scoring play on the first snap of the second period.
Trent Dial added the second of his three extra point kicks for a 14-0 Richmond lead. Savannah bounced back off the canvas to get back on the board as Roach connected with Blake McFadden for an 18-yard touchdown, but the kick failed.
Once again, the arm of Bowles and the running of Vandiver had the Spartans back on the board as they hooked up again for a 55-yard scoring strike on the next play from scrimmage. Bowles would end the night with 226 yards passing as he completed 14 of 16 to seven different receivers, with Vandiver on the receiving end of a half-dozen for 129 yards.
“Colby Bowles can throw the ball,” Bowers said. “He did a great job early of making some plays. If we need to throw the ball, I have all the confidence in the world of Colby throwing where he needs to, and the kids made some plays by catching the ball.”
The Spartan lead stretched to 27-6 as Jamal Robinson scored on a 17-yard run with 1:11 left in the half, but the visitors would respond with another Roach to McFadden touchdown pass – this one an 8 yarder – to cut the halftime Spartan lead to 27-12.
A fumbled punt following Savannah’s first possession of the second half led to the final score of the game as the Savages recovered on the Richmond 45. Seven plays later Savannah scored on a 1-yard sneak by Roach, but the kick failed.
While the Spartans continued to move the ball throughout the remainder of the game, the four second-half turnovers kept them from putting more points on the board. Bowers was proud of the way his team shook off the miscues and continued to battle.
“They’re getting a little more confidence,” he said. “We’ve been down and we’re young. They want to believe in themselves, but they’re just not sure yet. They just need to keep working at it and we’ll get there.”
The Spartans ended the night with 188 yards on the ground with Bowles gaining 65 on 11 attempts, with Arthur Bivines adding 55 more on 19 carries, and Robinson gaining 31 yards on 3 rushes. Reny Reis grabbed a pair of passes for 35 yards and Kyle Carroll had 2 receptions for 9 yards.
PHOTO: Spartan defensive line applies pressure to Savannah quarterback Justin Roach early in Richmond’s second win of the season Friday night at Spartan Stadium. (Photo by Russ Green/The Daily News)