In just two games this season, Richfield head football coach Kris Pulford has seen his team improve greatly from one game to the next.
After giving up an early lead in a lopsided loss to DeLaSalle in week one, Richfield learned to fight through adversity in its latest game, a matchup against Park Center Sept. 8.
While Richfield took a step forward on both sides of the ball in the contest, the Spartans fell to 0-2 with a 42-30 loss to the Pirates.
“We started off well and I feel we finished well, but there was a little lull,” Pulford said. “There were a couple of miscues on offense, we let up a couple big plays on defense, but our guys were resilient, even at the end.
“It was an unbelievable effort by them tonight.”
Richfield, for the second consecutive week, opened the scoring, as senior quarterback hit wide receiver Emmanuel Blackshear for a 34-yard touchdown pass.
Then, Park Center scored on back-to-back 1-yard touchdown runs to take a 14-6 lead. Rather than getting down on themselves, Pulford is proud of the way his team continued to fight. Carlson connected with Blackshear on 21-yard and 17-yard touchdown passes to give the Spartans an 18-14 halftime lead.
“That was a lot of fun, we found some weaknesses in their secondary and exposed it with our athletes, especially Emmanuel,” Carlson said. “It was just really great to put points on the board and come out of the half with the lead.”
Park Center and Richfield began trading touchdowns in the second half and, while Richfield would have liked to shut down the Pirates’ offense, Pulford was pleased with the way his team fought until the end of the game.
“We were just trading touchdowns, and it’s awesome to see them fight that adversity,” Pulford said. ‘In the past, we have seen them score a touchdown and we have gotten down, but tonight we knew we were never out of it.
“It was fun to see guys improve in the sense of not hanging their heads.”
Jevonte Howard ran for two touchdowns in the second half, with his second giving the Spartans a 30-28 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Park Center responded with a touchdown and, with a fourth-and-goal at the 6-yard line, Richfield’s pass attempt fell incomplete. Park Center rushed for a 94-yard touchdown on the ensuing play to seal the win.
“There’s a Greek word, agona, we derive agony from it, and it means giving your full measure and full expenditure of all your energy, and our guys gave that tonight,” Pulford said. “It was unbelievable to watch, and so fun to watch guys play as hard as they can.”
Despite the loss, Pulford was pleased with the way his team performed. In particular, Pulford was happy to see his quarterback take a step forward after a rough first game of the year.
“The game slowed down for Caleb tonight,” Pulford said. “His first varsity start, I think he was spinning a little bit, but tonight he came to the sidelines and was giving feedback, so he is growing into a leadership role.
“We want to go fast, but in that, Caleb has to be slow, and he is starting to see guys pop open and is hitting them on routes and he is starting to hit the deep ball better.”
Carlson said his team has made it easy for him to remain calm during the games.
“I just really love to come out here and work with our team,” Carlson said. “This is such a unique group of guys.
“A lot of the guys are undersized, we’re under-skilled, don’t have as much athletic ability as other teams, but we come out here and work so hard and make things happen. They all just try so hard.”
One of the players Carlson has clicked with the most has been Blackshear. Blackshear’s three touchdowns against Park Center gave him five through the Spartans’ first two games.
“I have been working with the wide receiver coaches on great footwork techniques,” Blackshear said. “They’re teaching us to get off the press and find open space, which we have used to the best of our abilities.”
Richfield (0-2) will look to take another step forward when it plays Orono at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15, at Orono High School.
Follow Chris Chesky on Twitter at @MNSunSports or @SunSportsChris, or on Facebook at SunSportsStaff.