BY DEAN HOCKNEY
RICHMOND, Ind. – It was a battle between two storied North Central Conference programs – the visiting Kokomo Wildkats and the host Richmond Red Devils. Richmond leads the conference with 23 football titles while Kokomo is second with 17.
Everyone knew these squads have had epic and bruising battles, and with both teams 3-0 in loop play, the game was ripe for excitement. But there was something else on the line between these two teams – pride. Kokomo entered with a conference record 39-game win streak and five consecutive outright titles – a record they share with Richmond. On the other hand, Richmond wanted nothing more than to be the team to end those streaks and start one of its own – after all, Richmond holds the record with six NCC titles from 1970-1975.
Score one for Richmond (4-2) as they knocked the Kats (4-2) off its conference perch with a 26-22 victory in what can only be described as a strange outing. Kokomo jumped to a 22-7 lead and seemed to be in run-away mode only to have Mother Nature erupt and force the Kats to drive home in a lightning storm and make the return two hour bus ride the following afternoon. Maybe it was sitting in a bus for a combined six hours over two days, maybe it was a lack of attention, or maybe it was desire by Richmond; but two different teams took the field Saturday as Richmond stormed back for the win.
“Three fumbles and a number of offensive penalties is something you can’t overcome,” said head coach Brett Colby. “We really had a tough day – you have to come to play every day, and if you don’t, this is what happens. The better team won.”
If a finger can be pointed, it would most likely be pointed at the Wildkat special teams. Two times, Richmond grabbed an onside kick that proved deadly for Kokomo. Add in a 78-yard kickoff return by Ben Parrish to open the second half and the upset was delivered by Richmond in front of a joyous Homecoming crowd.
“Special teams absolutely destroyed us today,” said Colby. “Everyone can take the blame for this one. Coaches too. We are the ones who have to get our kids ready to play.”
Kokomo was led by the two touchdowns and 99 rushing yards by Michael Copeland. Tayler Persons found Anthony Clayton for a 46-yard score to account for the Kats third touchdown.
For the Kats to win its sixth consecutive NCC title, it needs to win its final three conference games and hope Huntington North can knock off Richmond on Oct. 5 to force a tie at the top (or pray New Castle or Logansport pull off a major upset). Kokomo returns to action Friday night at Logansport.
(NOTE: Kokomo last lost an NCC game on Oct. 6, 2006, in a 28-27 triple overtime loss to Marion.)