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The Richmond Spartans return to action Friday night at Tom Adams Field to face the Lexington Minutemen in (a) The Bell Game; (b) Homecoming; (c) a chance to finish the conference season with a winning record in the final MRVC East contest of the year; or (d) all of the above.
If you picked “d” you would be correct. Fans heading to Spartan Stadium will certainly get their money’s worth as the Spartans host the No. 7 ranked team in Class 2. The Minutemen are having one of their best seasons in recent memory under second-year head coach Tom Beck. Beck, a former assistant under the legendary Gil Rector, has returned the swagger to the Minutemen as they have rolled to a 6-0 mark by an average score of 32-8.
“They play hard, they’re quick and they run hard to the ball, and play sound on defense,” Richmond Coach Rob Bowers said. “They line up and run the ball at you and do what Lexington has done for a long time. They might throw it from time to time, but they make their hay running the ball.”
Bowers is hoping his Spartans keep the momentum built from last week’s 48-0 thumping of the Panthers at Knob Noster. After struggling to put four quarters together in the previous two weeks, Richmond had everything going for it at Knob Noster as the Spartans moved back to .500 overall at 3-3, and in the league at 2-2.
“We were needing a win in the worst way, and playing as well as we did allowed us to get some younger guys in to get some game time experience,” he said. “It was fun for the kids and that’s something I hope the kids can build on and go into this week with a little bit of confidence.”
Trying to get the Saluda Bell back after three years won’t be an easy task for the Spartans. The first order of business will be to stop the veer attack offense that has averaged over 230 yards rushing each game. Senior Josh Fiene has 528 yards and 4 touchdowns, with Bryce Harrison adding 390 yards and 4 touchdowns. Fiene had 75 yards and a pair of touchdowns last year in Lexington’s 13-6 win. Quarterback Josh Kaullen has 309 yards on the ground and 7 touchdowns this year.
“Their backs are good players,” Bowers said. “They run hard and one guy doesn’t bring them down. Their quarterback is doing a nice job of throwing the ball.”
Kaullen has thrown the ball more the past few weeks as defenses put more men in the box to stop the run. In last week’s 42-0 win at Trenton the junior threw for 154 yards and 3 touchdowns. For the season he has completed 32 of 51 passes for 496 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“They throw when they want to and use a lot of play action,” Bowers said. “Normally when they throw, it’s a big play. They don’t chip away at little short passes. When they throw, they’re going over the top and going for big plays.”
Senior Seth Smith leads the receivers with 12 catches for 225 yards and a half dozen touchdowns, including a 4 reception, 137-yard effort last week with 3 more touchdowns.
The defense, which is allowing just 175 yards a game, is led by all-district, and third-team all-state linebacker Collin Stephenson, who once again leads the team in tackles. Nathan Hollingsworth, 6-4, 285-pounds, anchors the front with Polo transfer and all-GRC performer Dean Manning joining him.
“The Hollingsworth kid is a big kid who plays well and they’re just real quick on the defensive front,” Bowers said. “That has caused a lot of people problems because with their quickness, even if you get them blocked, they don’t stay blocked too long. They just haven’t had a lot of big plays against them because they run to the ball so well.”
Manning missed last week’s game with a sore knee.
Bowers adds that he expects his Spartans to come out and be ready to go.
“We have to come out and play up tempo,” he said. “We have to play with confidence and match their confidence and get after it. We will need to match their toughness with our own and we can’t let bad things get us down. We just need to play one play at a time and one series at a time.”
Lexington has won 12 of the 19 Bell Games played.