With the rain still falling and his team just minutes removed from their first loss since August, Matt Holeva talked about expectations.
Richmond had raised them.
Next year, Holeva wants to see the Red Devils once again advance to a sectional semifinal — and beyond.
For a second straight year, though, Franklin County was the postseason roadblock that stymied the Red Devils.
The Wildcats were the winners in the muck and the mud Friday night, fending off a late RHS drive and holding on for a 14-13 victory.
“We get to the point that once we accomplish one goal, that becomes the expectation,” Holeva said. “We won conference. That’s going to be an expectation from here on out. We lost second round of sectional. That’s our goal for next year, to get further than we did this year.”
The Red Devils were seconds and 23 yards from extending their season.
Richmond drove to the Franklin County 23-yard line with less than a minute remaining, but the Wildcat defense held.
An incomplete pass with 39 seconds left gave the host team the ball back — and a date with top-ranked Columbus East in the Class 4A Sectional 15 championship game next Friday.
“We played the field possession game, and kept punting it away in the wind and the rain, but our defense stood strong,” said Wildcats coach Shane Wellman, who was an assistant for RHS last year.
The Franklin County field was a muddy mess even before the game started, and the steady rain that fell throughout the entire game just deteriorated its condition.
That didn’t seem to bother either Jesse Cox or Ben Parrish.
Cox returned the game’s opening kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown to give Franklin County a 7-0 lead. Parrish returned the favor with a 75-yard TD return on the ensuing kickoff to tie the game 7-all after less than 30 seconds of play.
“This bunch has fought and scrapped and did everything they could this year to move the program forward and accomplish the things they’ve accomplished,” Holeva said. “We felt like we should be playing another week and we just didn’t get it done tonight.”
Franklin County used Layne Harnishfeger, Zach Sizemore and Chase Halloran to move the ball on the ground.
Harnishfeger led all rushers with 77 yards on 18 carries, but it was Halloran who found the end zone with about 8 minutes left in the second quarter. The junior fullback converted on a 1-yard scamper and gave the Wildcats a 14-7 lead they took until halftime.
Justyn Curtis cut that deficit to 14-13 with 7:26 left in the third quarter as the RHS quarterback ran for an 11-yard score. He set that TD up with a 38-yard strike to Jalen Bailey, the game’s only completed pass.
The Devils never got the chance to attempt the kick as the ball slipped loose on the snap.
“The weather is the weather. They had to play in the same muck that we did,” Holeva said. “I was proud of our guys. We played hard.”
The Devils denied the Wildcats the end zone through the final two quarters. Daniel Ekwealor snagged an interception, while Nate Trawick recovered a fumble.
Trawick, Bryson Yates, Skyler Storms and Blair Vanlandingham were also among the Red Devils who helped stuff the Wildcat offense at key points.
“Their offense, they are big, strong, physical kids,” Holeva said of the Wildcats. “That’s something we need to learn from and get ourselves in the weight room and get to that point.
“On a mucky field like this, it’s hard to drive the ball the whole length of the field. I know they had some long drives. The cliche — bend, but don’t break — on stuff like this, all it takes is one bad play, or one slip that puts them behind the chains. It’s hard to do and I think we did that defensively. We forced them to drive the length of the field and defense stepped up and made big stops when they could.”
Curtis had 59 yards rushing and fought his way to critical first downs to keep drives alive in the second half.
RHS finished 8-3, the program’s best mark since 2002. The Red Devils also went 7-0 to win the North Central Conference, and had an eight-game winning streak heading into Friday’s semifinal.
Richmond’s season in 2011 also ended at Franklin County. The Wildcats won last year’s sectional opener with the Red Devils 28-7.
Franklin County (6-5) travels next Friday to Columbus East (11-0), a 48-6 winner Friday over Connersville.
“We just have to get healthy because Columbus East is no pushover,” Wellman said.