The Burlington Central Rockets experienced pure elation and utter disappointment within a 2-play span in a stunning 9-7 loss to Richmond-Burton on Rocket Hill Friday.
With his team trailing by 2 points with under two minutes to play, Central quarterback Ryan Ritchie turned a broken play into a 45-yard dash down to the Richmond-Burton 1-yard line, which sent the huge homecoming crowd and the Central sideline into near frenzy. Ritchie made a dive for the pylon at the end of the run, but he was ruled out of bounds.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound junior quarterback attempted to sneak for a touchdown on the next play, and a good push by the offensive line paved his way into the end zone. However, the ball came loose at some point during the run and Richmond-Burton's defense recovered the apparent fumble in the end zone for a touchback with 1:14 left in the game.
All Richmond-Burton (4-1, 0-1) had to do was kneel in victory formation three times for the two-time defending league champions to extend their Big Northern Conference East winning streak to 15 straight games. The agonizing defeat snapped a 2-game winning streak for Burlington Central (3-2, 0-1).
"They (the officials) said he fumbled the ball before he crossed the plane," said Central coach Rich Crabel, who did not allow his players to speak to the media. "I wasn't up there, so I can only go on what the kids thought."
Central was flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct in the wake of the fumble ruling.
"We talk about doing what you need to do along the goal line to make sure they don't get in, and our guys were able to make a play there," Richmond-Burton coach Patrick Elder said.
In fact, it was the second huge play of the fourth quarter by the Richmond defense, which recorded a safety with 9:11 left in the game to stake R-B to its slim margin of victory.
Burlington Central's Al Willett had just made a huge defensive play by stopping R-B quarterback Matt Malecki for no gain on fourth-and-goal from the Central 2-yard line, but R-B made an even bigger defensive play once the Central offense took possession.
R-B nose guard Henry Robison (6-0, 295) tackled Central running back Joel Bouagnon 2 yards deep into the end zone for the game-winning safety.
"We knew we had them on their goal line after they stopped us on fourth-and-short," Robison said. "I just went straight for the guard, blew him back, ripped him off and tackled the halfback."
The teams played a scoreless first half, but R-B got on the board when Malecki ran for a 4-yard touchdown with 6:51 left in the third quarter.
Central answered with its only scoring drive of the night, an impressive 13-play, 79-yard march in which the Rockets overcame 2 sacks. Ritchie hit Mikiel Thompson with a pretty 21-yard scoring strike down the left sideline with 36 seconds left in the third quarter. Cody Wallace's extra point tied the game 7-7.