A slow start forced the Richmond Roughriders to conjure a comeback in their meeting with the Carolina Energy early in the season. That was corrected in Saturday’s rematch in the American Arena League semifinals with the Roughriders beating the Energy 57-43.
Even after a 22-0 opening quarter, the top-seeded Roughriders needed another quarter that exhibited why they won the championship last year and are the on-paper favorite to repeat.
Trailing 29-22 in the third quarter, the Roughriders scored on five consecutive possessions and made two stops to capture a lead it — this time — didn’t relinquish.
The Roughriders will host the championship on June 30. After a stop on fourth-and-goal, quarterback Robert Kent connected with wideout Robert Meachem with 3 minutes remaining to quell any thoughts of another comeback.
“We just came out ready to compete [in the second half],” defensive lineman Keontae Hollis said. “Adversity struck early. We looked it in the face, and we punched it right back in the face. We was ready.”
For as long as the Roughriders looked like the No. 1 seed, they had their stretches of vulnerability.
Wide receiver Jeremy Gallon returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, and Richmond scored twice more in the quarter with two goal line stops that established what looked to be irreversible momentum. However, when defensive lineman Greg Hardy went out for the half with a right knee injury late in the first quarter, the Energy returned the blow it was dealt in the first quarter.
On the final play of the half, Kent caught his own deflected pass and illegally threw it again only to be picked by the Energy and returned for a score as time expired.
Carolina then converted a trick-play, 2-point conversion to enter the half tied at 22.
The Energy had completed flipped the arc of the game. For a moment, Carolina even put the upset on the table, returning a dose of Richmond’s own medicine by returning the second-half opening kickoff for a score to take a 29-22 lead.
Still, the Roughriders were the better team. They had already done everything earlier in the game that they needed to do in order to clinch a second appearance in the title game in as many seasons.
Saturday’s back-and-forth affair wasn’t going to be how the season was going to end for a team that isn’t accepting anything short of another championship. They have four more quarters to achieve that goal.
“We know the kind of team we have. We know the talent level,” Kent said. “It’s just putting it together and playing four quarters of football.”
Jacob Myers ~ Richmond Times Dispatch