It was deflating the way Richmond Hill’s football season ended: three straight losses culminated by a 29-21 loss at Lee County last Friday in the opening round of the GHSA Class 6A state playoffs.
After knocking off Glynn County, 12-7, the Wildcats (7-3) were unbeaten and one win away from winning the Region championship, and found themselves ranked for the first time since 1996. That was the year of Richmond Hill’s only region championship.
With a chance to make history Richmond Hill lost to Brunswick and followed by losing to Effingham County which made it a No. 4 seed going on the road to play Lee County, a No. 1 seed.
Coach Matt LeZotte, who said he spent the weekend decompressing, admitted it was a tough way to end a season, but he also knows you build a program brick-by-brick, and he and his staff are slowly but surely laying the bricks.
“Our region is one of the best in the state,” LeZotte said. “We played poorly against Brunswick and Effingham, but we took it to them (Lee County). I couldn’t be more proud of the players.
“We challenged the guys about their legacy,” LeZotte said. “They took the fight to a more talented team, and had a chance to win the ballgame in the fourth quarter.”
The Wildcats are losing a bevy of talented players, and will play a stronger non-region schedule next year, but the third-year coach—he is now 16-14 in three seasons — believes the ingredients are there to be successful.
Offensively Richmond Hill will have to replace among others quarterback Kasey Green who threw for 1,912 yards 19 touchdowns, running back Maurice Smith with 1,118 yards and 16 touchdowns, wide receiver Sam James with 53 catches for 905 yards and 11 touchdowns and kicker Joseph Petrino.
Defensively leading tackler Nico DeCosta (110 tackles), and linebackers Wil Hufstutler (90), Antuan Goulbourne (48), and Andrew Purcell (48) along with cornerback D.J. Lewis (44) will be tough to replace, too.
James is committed to West Virginia while Petrino is headed to Maryland. Justin Jeffery was committed to Cincinnati, but he and the Bearcats decided recently the fit wasn’t right and he is back on the market.
LeZotte said he will move junior Aaron Bedgood to quarterback next year to take advantage of his speed, and he will be joined by fellow speedster Jalen Rouse who had 231 yards on 38 carries as a sophomore this season.
“The offense will change a lot,” LeZotte said. “Aaron was as explosive as anyone we had. We’ll snap it to every time. Jalen is super explosive. He split a lot of reps with Maurice and Aaron.
“Maurice had great numbers this year,” LeZotte said. “He was over 1,000 yards despite us having a game cancelled due to the hurricane. He was a great back for us this year.”
Bedgood’s ability and versatility are reflected in 1,090 all-purpose yards which included 347 rushing, 340 receiving, 208 on kick returns and 201 on punt returns. He had nine touchdowns, four rushing and five receiving.
This was the third straight year Bedgood topped the 1,000-yard mark in all-purpose yardage. He had 1,092 last year and 1,090 as a freshman.
“We’ve got some weapons returning, but the major factor is our depth which we’ve never had,” LeZotte said. “We’ve got a large freshman class coming up, and some of them will contribute.”
One of the knocks against the Wildcats this season was their non-conference schedule, but next year will see them playing Wayne County, Bluffton, Camden County, Liberty County and New Hampstead.
“It’ll be tough to run out to 7-0 next year,” LeZotte said. “No cupcakes.”