RICHLANDS, Va. — For 23 years, Greg Mance has won football games at Richlands with innovation and efficiency.
Mance used the same fundamentals to record his 200th career victory with the Blue Tornado on Friday.
Behind a balanced and error-free offense and a key adjustment on defense, Richlands downed the Abingdon Falcons 31-21 in a nondistrict contest.
With most members of the overflow crowd on their feet, Mance received a large trophy in recognition of his legacy.
“This achievement is a credit to all the players and the assistant coaches who have worked so hard to build this program. I’m just a small part of it,” Mance said.
Before the game, Richlands players and coaches watched a four-minute video featuring nearly 40 highlights from the past two decades of Blues football.
“That was a special touch, and it really got our kids fired up,” Mance said.
Abingdon landed the first punch via a 19-play, 80-yard scoring drive capped with a 3-yard run by junior running back Martin Lucas.
A 6-foot-3 junior who is gifted on cutback moves, Lucas rushed for 155 yards on 20 carries in the first half. Lucas was held to just to 22 yards in the second half.
So what was the difference?
At halftime, Mance and his defensive coordinator Ronnie Davis switched to a 4-3 alignment, which helped answer the various formations employed by the Falcons.
“Abingdon is a physical team with big offensive linemen, and Lucas does a great job of getting yards after contact, but our defense did a great job of shutting them down in the second half,” Mance said.
After falling behind 14-10 with 4:36 left in the first half, Richlands (1-2) took control of the line of scrimmage.
Mance needed only two words to sum up that swing.
“Offensive line. Those guys paved the way, and Logan Steele had a breakout game at running back,” Mance said. “We’ve been waiting on that to happen with Logan, and he had great a two weeks of practice.”
Steele, a junior, finished with 133 yards rushing and three scores on 15 carries. Senior quarterback Cade Simmons, a first-year starter, added 68 yards rushing and 102 passing while making smart reads and not making a turnover.
“Cade was tremendous,” Mance said.
Abingdon coach Garrett Amburgey and Abingdon fans were left to ponder what went wrong.
“That long drive was a great way to start the game. We just came up short after that,’” Amburgey said. “Games can swing on just a couple plays.”
Two plays stood out.
The first came on an 80-yard TD run by Steele on third and long with 1:39 left in the first half.
“The play was stretch right, and I got some great blocks by my offensive linemen and receivers. After that, I just had to beat one man,” Steele said. “We had the defense guessing on every play.”
Another momentum shift came when AHS failed to convert a 4th-and-1 chance at its own 29-yard line at the 3:32 mark of the third quarter. That set up a 21-yard TD run by Steele that gave Richlands a 31-14 advantage.
“I don’t think the game was as much about adjustments,” Amburgey said. “Richlands just played hard and maybe wanted it more than we did. That’s something we’ve got to improve on. I still love this team, and we’re going to go back to work Monday.”
There’s one other pressing concern for AHS.
“We’ve got to tackle better, especially in space,” Amburgey said. “That’s what we have to do: Get off the field on third down.”
In addition to booming all of kickoffs into the end zone, Richlands senior Levi Forrest connected on a 54-yard field goal in the first half.
Steele, whose birthday is today, rushed for over 100 yards for the first time.
“This was a great way to celebrate my birthday, and it was great win for Coach Mance,” Steele said. “Our whole team worked for this.”
There was no elaborate post-game party for Mance. As is his custom, the veteran Richlands coach planned to review Friday’s game film and begin preparing a plan for next week’s contest against powerful Bluefield.
“I just feel blessed to get our first win of the season,” Mance said.