Following Friday night’s game, Rocky Mount coach Jason Battle had to talk on behalf of the glue of his defense.
“He gutted up, and did the best he could to finish,” Battle said.
Artavious Richardson saved his vomiting until the conclusion of the game. The senior defensive end and the rest of the Gryphons made sure Southern Lee’s drive back to Sanford didn’t feel so good, either.
The Gryphons (10-2) clawed back from a 14-point deficit midway through the third quarter to edge Southern Lee 30-28 in a first-round 3A N.C. High School Athletic Association matchup. Rocky Mount plays at rival Southern Nash (12-0), one of two undefeated teams the Gryphons have lost to this year, in the second round.
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The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Richardson, one of the Gryphons’ team captains, is one of 23 seniors leading an experienced Rocky Mount team that won the NCHSAA 3A title last year.
“He’s the leader,” Battle said. “They rally to him, he plays hard, he’s a tough kid who loves the program and loves football.”
Battle points to Richardson’s sustained excellence since his sophomore season, playing through issues – such as nausea – and not making excuses.
“We have a lot of kids that lead by example, but he’s a vocal piece, too,” Battle said. “Our kids know that he does things the right way.”
In a low-scoring first half, the Cavaliers quickly established a passing rhythm with a couple of first downs in the opening drive. But after two completions and two quick first downs, Richardson stormed around end and dropped Southern Lee quarterback Noah Terhune for an 11-yard loss, forcing the Cavaliers to eventually punt.
On Southern Lee’s next series, Richardson knocked down Terhune’s pass attempt on a 3rd-and-5, forcing another punt.
On Southern Lee’s third possession, the Cavaliers drove to the Rocky Mount 9, but on 4th-and-inches, Richardson was one of the players who tackled Southern Lee running back Jarvis Jackson for a one-yard loss, turning the ball back to Rocky Mount.
Richardson had two sacks, an assist on the early key fourth-down stop and kept Terhune moving out of the pocket and running all night.
Richardson’s best game statistically was against Edenton Holmes on Sept. 9 when he had 12 total tackles, including three behind the line of scrimmage in a 28-17 victory. He had four tackles and two sacks in a 17-0 win over Hunt in Rocky Mount’s regular-season finale, and recorded 10 tackles against Middle Creek.
According to Battle, a lot of Football Championship Series schools are looking at him. The Charlotte 49ers have offered him, and Gardner-Webb “loves him.” North Carolina A&T and N.C. Central have also shown interest.
Going into Friday’s second-round game, Richardson has recorded 56 tackles, six sacks, an interception and forced two fumbles.
Rocky Mount held its opponents to 17 or fewer points in nine of its 11 regular-season games. And while the scoreboard indicates that the Gryphons yielded 28 points to Southern Lee, the defense was responsible for only half of those.
Southern Lee’s Wendell Hill ripped the ball out of a Rocky Mount kick returner’s hands for one score, and a fumble recovery in the end zone by the Cavaliers after another kickoff pinned the Gryphons on their own 1 accounted for another touchdown.
“I thought our defense played well,” Battle said Friday night. “We shut them out for a half.”