Late meltdown eliminates Richmond Raiders from playoffs

RichmondRaidersThe Richmond Raiders kept the Lehigh Valley SteelHawks out of the end zone for the first three quarters and had a 13 point lead with under seven minutes to play as they tried to close the regular season with a win and return to the PIFL playoffs. But two late fumbles catapulted the SteelHawks to a 23-0 run and an eventual 51-41 win, as instead they claimed the final playoff berth and ended the Raiders’ season.

Phil Konopka threw two second half touchdowns to Gerron Bryant and one to Herb Jones, following a Torez Jones interception, to turn a one point halftime deficit into a 34-21 lead. Lehigh Valley responded with a touchdown and the Raiders took over with 3:31 left and a five point lead. Needing to take time off the clock and at least get into field goal range, they instead experienced disaster when Konopka was hit and fumbled in the end zone. Tim Hume recovered to give the SteelHawks the lead with two minutes to play.

Trailing by two, the Raiders could play for a game winning field goal if they could hold on to the ball, but doing so proved elusive. They fumbled a snap and Lehigh Valley extended the lead three plays later when Troy Pascley took a swing pass down the sideline 17 yards for a touchdown. Michael Barnard’s extra point made it a nine point game, and then his fourth uno of the game changed the complexion of the final 33 seconds.

Needing two scores, the Raiders turned to Jon Bane, who completed two quick passes including a 22 yard touchdown to Daron Clark. The extra point made it 44-41, but the ensuing onside kick was recovered by the ‘Hawks who added a last second touchdown to account for the final margin.

Both defenses strung together stops to start the game. The Raiders broke through with a Konopka to Clark touchdown and a T.C. Stevens field goal, but he missed two field goal attempts while Barnard connected on three of four. He scored all 11 of his team’s first half points and finished with 21 on four field goals and four unos. But the fact that he was called on to try six field goals through the first three quarters was indicative of the way the Raiders’ defense kept Shane McSweeny (16-29, 161 yards) and company off balance for most of the contest. In fact, Lehigh Valley’s offense was hard pressed to put together long, sustained drives until the fourth quarter – and didn’t need to thanks to the fumbles.

Konopka finished with 205 yards and four TDs on 18 of 34 passing. Herb Jones had his team leading 12th touchdown reception, and Daron Clark and Gerron Bryant had two each to finish right behind him with 11 and 10 respectively. The Raiders outgained the SteelHawks 248-161 and held them to 4 of 11 on third down, but lost the decisive turnover battle to fall to 1-7 when negative in turnovers.

The Raiders finish 5-7 and in third place in the National Conference, out of the playoffs for the first time in three years. This will be the first postseason in PIFL history that does not include the Raiders, who advanced to the last two league championship games.

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