The coin toss was an omen for the Richmond Oilers Friday night. In a 50-50, toss-up game that came down to a decisive last few minutes, the Oilers lost 20-14 to the Fairfield Falcons.
This looked like the game where the Oilers would record their first win of the season. Assistant coach Marlyn Johnson paced the sideline calling for physicality at the start, and in the first quarter, which began with two home team interceptions, it was clear Johnson’s words were felt among the players and coaches.
There were eight coaches on the Oilers’ sideline who could be heard egging on the team. Up until the fourth quarter, it seemed that victory was at hand.
Three minutes into second quarter, Deshawn Clark scored the Oilers’ first touchdown, followed by Nethaniel House with a two-point conversion. The coaches shouted their approval.
House scored a touchdown a few minutes later, and the Oilers took a 14-8 lead into the locker room at halftime. There, Johnson rallied the team to finish strong.
“You guys worked hard to get to this point, now it’s time to take it all the way,” he said. “Do this together and you got it. The minute you start putting yourself ahead of this family, mistakes are made. Stick with the family.”
Players said they always try to take the message to heart.
“They might yell at you, but that’s to get you pumped up,” said junior Billy Davis. “They tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”
“They always believe in you,” said senior, Anthony Luna. “I look up to them so much.”
Luna said the team members are like family, always together — practices and games, lunches and team dinners. Assistant Coach Dexter Parrish mirrored the same sentiment about the dynamic among the coaches. “We’re always at it,” he said, saying they joke with each other constantly like brothers.
The camaraderie was visible on the sideline in high-fives, embraces and butt-slaps.
Assistant Coach Clyde Byrd said the players’ attitudes are in the process of changing.
“Whenever you see young men changing, especially men of color, it’s heartfelt,” he said.
Byrd said he wants the student-athletes to know that they are successful people and they can accomplish whatever they want. The players said they appreciate the message.
“Coach Byrd is like a father to me,” Luna said.
“I don’t have any kids, but I feel like they’re my sons,” said Head Coach Tashaka Merriweather. “We’ve been going through this struggle together.”
The Oilers left the locker room ready to win, and held on during a tug-of-war in the third quarter. Clark made an early interception, but eight minutes into the fourth quarter, the Falcons scored, tying the game.
Just as the Oilers were about to regain possession, the referee threw a flag and the Oilers were assessed a 15-yard penalty for roughing the kicker. The Falcons scored a touchdown soon after to escape with a narrow win.
The Oilers left the field quiet and breathless, having fought hard the entire game, defeated — as in the opening coin toss — by only the narrowest of margins.