The Richmond Raiders will venture to Hershey, Pa., to face the Harrisburg Stampede in the third, final, and rubber match of the 2014 regular season. The teams split the first two meetings in Richmond, and both enter Saturday’s game fighting for their playoff lives.
The Raiders scored the final 22 points of the game, including an uno with 13 seconds left, to defeat the Lehigh Valley SteelHawks 38-37 last week and earn their third straight win. The Raiders’ final three touchdowns were all highlight reel catches. Daron Clark went over the wall into the Lehigh bench as he caught the ball; Herb Jones made a one handed grab in the end zone; and Scooby Bryant dove backwards and made an overhead catch in traffic. The Raiders’ defense closed the game with four straight stops: an interception and three forced field goals, all from 47 yards or longer and all no good.
The Raiders suffered seven sacks and turned the ball over twice, but allowed just 166 total yards. Herb Jones led all receivers with nine receptions and 92 yards. It was the second straight game between the teams dating back to last year that came down to the last play, and the second time in three meetings that the Raiders overcame a 21 point deficit.
The Stampede lost to the Trenton Freedom 57-49 last week in a game that turned on special teams plays. Early in the third quarter, the Freedom took a 22-21 lead on an uno. The teams traded touchdowns over the next six possessions, but a missed Stampede extra point during the exchange meant that Trenton was ahead by two midway through the fourth quarter. E.J. Nemeth threw an untimely interception, and the Freedom put together a long drive that culminated in a touchdown and a nine point lead with one minute remaining. Nemeth threw his sixth touchdown pass of the game and a completion for the two point conversion, but the Stampede were still down by one and elected to try to tie the game with an uno. The kickoff missed the uprights, and the Freedom tacked on an important insurance touchdown. The Stampede got one last play from the Trenton 16 yard line, but Nemeth’s pass was slightly too high for Evan Twombly in the end zone.
The Stampede won the first meeting this season in Richmond on April 19. They scored on offense, defense, and special teams in building a 28-1 lead. The Raiders would get no closer than 11 points the rest of the way, eventually falling 48-27. Phil Konopka threw two interceptions in his first start. Konopka had five total touchdowns (4 pass, 1 rush) in the 55-33 win over Harrisburg on May 24 and was named PIFL Offensive Player of the Week. He led the Raiders on a 21-0 run to start the second half and put Harrisburg in a hole they could not climb out of. Kenny Jones rushed for a season high three touchdowns and the Raiders intercepted E.J. Nemeth three times. The 33 points allowed tied the fewest the Raiders have given up in a game this year.
Pressure on the opposing quarterback will be an important factor Saturday afternoon. Amara Kamara has six sacks in the two games against the Raiders this year, while the Raiders’ defense leads the league in sacks. Nemeth leads the league in total offense, so making him uncomfortable will be crucial for the Raiders’ chances. Offensively, after virtually abandoning the running game last week, the Raiders will try to get back on track against a Stampede defense that ranks last in rushing defense and in total defense. The Raiders set a season high with 287 total yards in the last meeting against the Stampede, including 81 on the ground.
The Raiders control their own playoff destiny, and a win over Harrisburg would keep them in the hunt for the National Conference’s final playoff spot and eliminate the Stampede from contention. A Stampede victory would pull them into a tie with Richmond and give them the head to head tiebreaker with just two games remaining in the regular season.
The Raiders will return home on June 21 for the final home game of the season against the Nashville Venom. Tickets start as low as $7, and are available on the Raiders’ website, www.RichmondRaidersProFootball.com, or by calling 1-855-GO-RAIDERS or 804-780-0430. Additionally, fans can contact the Richmond Coliseum box office or visit ticketmaster.com.