Minutes after his team shocked top-seeded and previously-unbeaten Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin, 29-20, in the Class 5A quarterfinals Saturday, Richwoods coach Roland Brown said confidently, but without arrogance, “I knew we were going to win. Before the game, they had that look in their eyes. The atmosphere was so much different today than it was last year when they beat us (48-7 in the second round). Our kids were so ready to play, and win.”
Richwoods (11-1) opened the game with a nine-minute scoring drive that ended with a four-yard touchdown run from junior fullback Tim Knuttel. On fourth down and four yards to go, Brown went for the touchdown instead of a chip shot field goal, and it worked.
“We knew we were going to get smacked in the mouth, so we said, ‘why don’t we smack them first?’ I’m so proud of these kids. Every single one of them did something to help us win today,” Brown said.
Richwoods will play Joliet Catholic (10-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday at home in the semifinals. Joliet Catholic beat Washington, 47-7, Friday in their quarterfinal game.
Richwoods senior defensive back Niall Coker, who sacked SHG quarterback Eric Williamson on a key third down play late in the third quarter, said he and his teammates never doubted that the Knights would win, even though nobody outside their own locker room gave them a chance.
“We watched film on them all week, and we knew we could stop them, if we played our game. We really got after it in practice, too,” he said. “We were all pumped up for this. It feels great. We did what we set out to do.”
After the Knights scored on their opening drive, the Cyclones, thanks to three consecutive passes of at least 15 yards, marched right down the field and scored on the first play of the second quarter. The extra point attempt failed, so Richwoods held on to the 7-6 lead.
Richwoods went on another long drive (more than five minutes), but failed to score when junior quarterback Nate Taylor’s pass went just over the head of senior receiver Peter Cunningham’s shoulders in the end zone from six yards out.
With 5:40 left in the second quarter, Richwoods senior defensive back T.J. Cole sacked Williamson in the end zone for a safety to extend the Knights’ lead to 9-6.
“We thought we were going to get a touchdown there,” Cole said. “We came pretty close, but we’ll take the safety. It was a big play.”
Cole, one of the top seniors on the Richwoods basketball team, said he doesn’t mind missing one more week of basketball practice as the Knights continue their playoff run.
“Coach (Mike) Ellis was here at the game, and he said he was rooting for me,” Cole said. “I love basketball, but it will have to wait a little while longer. I hope we’ll be playing football Thanksgiving weekend.” If the Knights beat Joliet Catholic, they will play Saturday (Nov. 28) at Memorial Stadium for the Class 5A state title.
Richwoods scored on its next drive after the safety.
Taylor hit senior Mike Davis for a 44-yard touchdown pass (on third down and seven).
Davis, the starting quarterback for most of the season, sprinted along the sideline and beat the cornerback one-on-one. He was wide open when Taylor hit him in stride.
Davis injured his ankle a few weeks ago. He and Taylor have been sharing time at quarterback.
“Michael is the most unselfish player I’ve ever coached,” said Richwoods assistant coach/offensive coordinator Dave Webb. “He said he would do whatever we wanted him to do in order to help the team win. We designed that play just for him.”
Webb and Brown credited the offensive line (Myles Davis, Nick Southey, Jordan Snider, Jake Hoelzel and Steve Shipp) for the team’s offensive production.
“I could have called any play today, and it would have worked,” Webb said. “When the line plays like that, good things are going to happen.”
Cunningham said Richwoods had the SHG defense confused all day.
“We would line up and they (SHG) wouldn’t know what was coming,” he said. “They thought we were going to run, and we would pass. We have so many options on offense. We are able to mix things up.”
Taylor completed seven of 12 passes for 135 yards. Cunningham caught four passes for 50 yards.
Williamson ran for a six-yard touchdown with 1:17 left in the half to make it a 16-13 game.
The Knights made it all the way to the SHG four yard line, but a fake field goal attempt failed with :04.9.
SHG scored on its first possession of the second half. The scoring drive took only two minutes and seven plays and gave the Cyclones a 20-16 lead.
“We had trouble stopping them coming out of the half,” Brown said. “So, our defense switched to more man-to-man coverage, and that seemed to work.”
After Davis threw an interception (the Knights’ only turnover of the game), the Richwoods defense stepped up.
The Cyclones started at the Richwoods 35-yard line, but a penalty moved them back to the 40.
Cole then sacked Williamson for a 12-yard loss. Williamson injured his ankle on the play, but he stayed in the game. Two plays later, Coker sacked Williamson for a 13-yard loss and the Cyclones were forced to punt.
Then Richwoods freshman Kendrick Foster took over.
He opened the Knights’ next drive with a 31-yard run. Two plays later, he busted through the middle for a 24-yard touchdown run to give Richwoods a 22-20 lead (the extra point attempt failed).
“Kendrick gives us another dimension,” Brown said. “He’s so quick and elusive. I don’t think they were expecting that.” Foster rushed for 126 yards on 10 carries.
SHG was forced to punt (from its own 15-yard line) again on its last possession of the third quarter.
Richwoods opened the fourth quarter with a six-minute drive capped by a 14-yard touchdown run from Foster.
Earlier in that drive, the Knights converted on fourth down and two yards to go (Foster), and they converted two third down plays (passes from Taylor to Cole and junior Noah Moore).
On the first play of the next SHG drive, senior defensive back Nick Hines intercepted Williamson’s pass and ran it to the SHG 40-yard line.
“That’s when we knew it was over,” Coker said. “Nick made a big play there.”
Richwoods ate up valuable clock time by handing the ball to Foster and junior Tevin Hicks (75 yards on 22 carries) in the final five minutes.
When the horn sounded, the Richwoods players and coaches jumped up and down and hugged each other in celebration.
“We’re all happy for each other and coach Brown, too,” Cole said. “He treats us all like we are his own sons. We all love playing for him.”
Brown, in his first season as head coach after serving for many years as an assistant under Rod Butler, Doug Simper and Dave Lang, said he is just carrying on a strong tradition.
“I learned a ton of football from all of those coaches. I’m just trying to keep up the high standards that they worked so hard to create here at Richwoods,” he said. “This is huge for this school and for the city. Now, it’s back to work. We have another game to get ready for.”