LAURINBURG — Richmond brought a heavy dose of “Raider Magic” with it to Pate Stadium Friday night in its Southeastern Conference clash with Scotland.
Down 28-0 in the third quarter, the visitors from Rockingham scored 21 unanswered points and found themselves inside the Scots’ red zone with less than 30 seconds remaining after recovering an onside kick two minutes earlier.
And that’s when Scotland linebacker Jonathan Smith had seen enough.
The senior defensive captain stepped in front of a Leon Zeigler pass and secured the game-clinching interception, propelling Scotland to its fifth straight SEC title and fifth win in a row against its bitter rival.
“It all came from the play call,” Smith said. “Coach (Corey) Johnson gave me a call to jump in the middle of the field, the defensive linemen put pressure on them and I was just lucky enough to be there.”
The key defensive stop stymied a furious rally by a Richmond team looking to win its first conference title since 2010.
“You have to give Richmond a lot of credit, they had a lot of fight,”said Scotland coach Richard Bailey said. “I’m very proud of our kids, I’m proud of our fans, it was a great atmosphere tonight. It was a classic game — those were the games in the past Scotland would find a way to lose and we found a way to win.”
Mike Castellano’s squad dominated the final 13-and-a-half minutes, but it was Scotland that appeared well on its way to an easy victory through the first two-thirds of the contest.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Scots scored three touchdowns in the second to go up 21-0 at halftime.
Dashaun Ferguson opened the scoring with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Randy Leak with 10:41 to go in the second quarter. The senior briefly bobbled the snap, but recovered the ball and threw a strike to one of his favorite targets.
On the ensuing kickoff, Scotland kicker Grant Ciarrocca kicked the ball to a spot that was unoccupied by Richmond and the Scots recovered the ball at the Raiders’ 25-yard line. Two plays later, Zamir White galloped into the end zone for a 24-yard score.
Richmond turned the ball over on downs on its following offensive possession, then Scotland drove down the field once more to increase its lead to three scores. Willie Douglas took a handoff on a jet sweep, broke a tackle near the goal line, then slid into the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown.
The Raiders attempted to build some momentum before heading into the halftime locker room, but Zeigler was picked off by Tyrek Waters in Scotland territory.
After the break, both teams traded punts, then a Richmond facemask penalty aided Scotland on its next offensive series. Instead of stopping the Scots on fourth-and-13, the infraction led to a fourth-and-1, which Scotland converted when Ferguson ran for a 16-yard touchdown. That score put the Scots up 28-0 with 1:32 remaining in the third quarter.
That’s when Richmond found its mojo — Quientel Goodwin hauled in the kickoff and raced back for an 80-yard touchdown.
“Obviously, Quientel is a playmaker for us,” Castellano said. “We were just one play away from getting back into the game.”
Bailey admitted his calls were “conservative” in the final quarter in an attempt to run out the clock, but Richmond kept its comeback hopes alive by shutting down the Scotland running game.
With 7:49 remaining, Zeigler bounced off a tackle for a 3-yard score to cap a 90-yard Richmond touchdown drive.
Scotland converted one first down before giving the ball back to Richmond with a little over three minutes remaining. Zeigler threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Goodwin, then followed with a throw to John David for the two-point conversion.
With 2:09 remaining,the Raiders attempted the onside kick and recovered the ball, setting off an eruption from the Richmond crowd and sideline.
Zeigler led another clutch drive into the red zone, but committed a crucial miscue when he failed to see Smith lurking in the middle of the field and threw it right into the linebacker’s mits.
“My team has been preparing for this all through the summer and all through the spring,” Smith said. “We knew it was going to be a dogfight, and we were prepared for it.”
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.