Disabato: Richards had heck of a run despite falling short of title
DEKALB — Richards coach Tony Sheehan had no choice but to go for it.
Trailing 28-7, Richards was faced with a fourth-and-goal from the Batavia four-yard line with less than 30 seconds remaining in the first half of Saturday’s Class 6A state championship.
I can’t relate to critics suggesting Richards was better served tacking on three points, closing the gap some and gaining a little momentum entering the half.
Those same critics obviously hadn’t watched Richards struggle much of the season to convert point-after kicks, much less field goals beyond 20 yards in a Division I-AA college stadium.
Anyhow, Richards wasn’t in position to peck away. They needed points, momentum, confidence entering intermission.
Richards was on life support and needed to produce some fireworks, not a spark.
“We needed a touchdown,” Sheehan said. “We needed to get seven (points); Three wasn’t going to help us. We needed momentum.”
With playmakers such as quarterback Hasan Muhammad-Rogers and receivers Tacari Carpenter, Ryan Willett, Spencer Tears and Dedrick Shannon, Sheehan made the right call.
Most of the time, any one of those young men can gain four yards blindfolded.
On this particular play, however, Muhammad-Rogers’ pass fell incomplete.
And with it, Richards’ dreams of winning its first state championship since 1989.
Unfortunately, on the season’s biggest stage Richards didn’t resemble the team that won 12 of its first 13 games, including a 31-25 Week 2 contest against the same Batavia club that claimed a 34-14 Class 6A state championship at Huskie Stadium on the campus of Northern Illinois University.
Well, not exactly the same Batavia club.
“We had five different guys on defense than the first time we played them,” Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. “During the course of a season, you’re going to improve.”
And let’s not underestimate the difficulty in beating the same team twice in one season, a hurdle Richards wasn’t able to overcome on this night. I’m not making excuses for Richards (12-2), but all things being equal, a rematch favors the team that lost the first time.
The chance for redemption can’t be minimized.
“I’d say it motivated us,” Batavia quarterback Micah Coffey said. “We wanted to show them that we were a good team.”
Richards had success moving the football — the offense registered 389 yards of offense. But the ability to convert in pressure situations, however, seldom appeared. Richards converted just 5-of-14 third downs and 2-of-6 fourth downs.
“We couldn’t make the big plays today,” Sheehan said.
Batavia, in turn, converted 11-of-14 third down chances. That’s a stunning rate of success against any team, much less a Richards defense that posted six shutouts and had allowed just 114 points entering the title match.
Batavia quarterback Micah Coffey completed 15-of-18 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns. He was only sacked once.
Batavia’s running attack amassed 229 yards on just 15 carries.
It was a tough day at the office for Richards. But there’s no shame losing to a Batavia team that won 13 of 14 games.
“They were just picking our defense apart,” Richards linebacker Romel Hill said.
“We didn’t make the stops like we were prepared to do,” Richards defensive lineman Savon Robinson said. “We knew what they were going to do but we just didn’t execute.”
The disappointment of finishing second-best will linger for some time.
But this Richards team, despite Saturday’s uneven performance, had a heck of a season. And with 12 starters returning next season, another trip to the finals in 2014 is not out of the question.
“I have to be better prepared, make better decisions on the move and be a better leader,” said Muhammad-Rogers of his goals for next season. “We’ll learn from this.”