On a cloudy, misty evening in Albany, nearly two years of waiting—and losing—finally ended. The Richmond Oilers bolted to a decisive win over the Albany Cougars — 38-18.
The Oilers have long been plagued with a small varsity team, which gets smaller as the season wears on and players are sidelined due to injuries and grade problems. This night there were only 18 suited up to play, many of them took turns on offense and defense—making the long awaited victory all the sweeter.
Both teams came into the game winless for the season.
“I pretty much let the team know the loser of this game is going to finish last,” said head coach Tashaka Merriweather, “and nobody wants to finish last.”
The Albany Cougars roared ahead quickly, scoring a touchdown within the first 20 seconds of the game. Scores of Cougar fans stood up in the stands, clapping and yelling in appreciation for the team as the band struck up a joyful, booming beat in celebration.
But, their lead did not last long. With 2:38 left in the first quarter, Senior Lamont Foggy fought through the Cougars defense for three yards to score the Oilers’ first touchdown of the game.
The Cougars answered back with a hard fought touchdown pass in the end zone in which the Richmond defender interfered with the Albany receiver to bring the score to 12-6 at the end the first half.
At half time defensive backs coach Greg Morris gathered the team in the far corner of the field. “I would like you to show their whole team how Richmond gets down,” shouted Coach Morris over the exuberant half time performance of the Albany cheer squad and marching band.
“Let’s keep fighting,” said head coach Merriweather, “the odds have always been stacked against us.”
Players nodded their heads in agreement as they kneeled before the coaches.
“Let’s play with hella enthusiasm,” Morris yelled as they wrapped up the half time pep-talk.
Looking fresh, despite a tough first half, the Oilers took to the field to kickoff.
A few minutes into the third quarter Oiler’s quarterback Devonte Anderson handed the ball off to number 7, Tra’von Clay. Clay found a hole in the Cougars’ defense and broke away sprinting for an over 70-yard run—finishing in the end zone and tying up the game, 12-12.
Just a couple of minutes later the Cougars fumbled and Richmond recovered the ball. Clay was ready to run, again. Anderson handed him the ball and Clay was off, covering about half of the field in a matter of seconds for the third Oilers’ touchdown of the night.
Deshawn Clark, a junior, caught a quick pass in the end zone for the two-point conversion, bringing the score to 20 -12, Richmond.
The energy on the Richmond side became palpable. There weren’t many Oilers’ fans at the game—just twenty or so people in the stands, a handful of supporters (JV players, coaches, younger brothers) on the sidelines and the cheer squad—but through near constant cheers, clapping and stamping they held their own against Albany’s full bleachers.
“Oilers, Unite! Fight! Fight! Fight,” yelled the cheerleaders as they lead the small crowd in their chants.
Unfortunately for the Oilers, momentum is a fickle friend, and can quickly change direction.
Following those two big touchdowns, the Cougars responded with a long run of their own and a touchdown — trimming Richmond’s lead to just two points.
Richmond spread out on the field to receive the kickoff. They shuffled around and crouched down as their coaches yelled to be ready for an onside kick.
The Albany gambit failed. The Oilers recovered at the 50-yard line .
With less than a minute to go in the third quarter, Clay did it again. A 51-yard run for a touchdown that gave Richmond a more comfortable lead—26-18.
The small Richmond crowd cheered continuously as the Oilers went into the fourth quarter. Gracie Jones was there to watch her son, Umoni Whitaker. She said she comes to every game, but this one was something else. “I love it,” Jones said, “I love it. I’m happy.”
About four minutes into the fourth quarter, after driving the ball nearly to the end zone, quarterback Devonte Anderson took the ball over the goal line—widening the lead to 32-18.
On the sidelines the coaches and players could barely contain their excitement. They paced the edge of the field, yelling instructions and praise at the players on the field. There was still a lot of time left in the game and they didn’t want the Oilers to lose focus while the Cougars had the ball.
Following consecutive unsuccessful drives, Albany got the ball back. Hoping to get back in the game, the Cougars threw a long pass that was intercepted by Ma Lae Ja Gordon, number 44, with 2:38 remaining in the game.
With just a minute left in the game, the Oilers knew it was theirs. Jumping up and down, they congratulated one another — their long drought was over, and to celebrate they grabbed the big orange cooler. Merriweather had his back to his players as he watched the last few plays of the game, he never saw the ice-cold bucket bath coming.
Clay, however was not done. Instead, he put in another long run and got his fourth touchdown of the night. Final score: 38-18.
The team rushed onto the field to celebrate their first win of the season, and for some seniors their first win at Richmond High.
“I’m going to dedicate this win to those seniors,” Merriweather told his team as they knelt before him after the game. “I’m proud of you,” he said. “There is nothing sweeter in life than a victory. Make sure you go out every day to get another.”
“Yeah!” “Yeah!” “Oh, Yeah,” the team yelled in unison.
Gathering around for a final cheer the Oilers hoisted Clay into the air. Being a winless team is behind them.
“This is a three game season for us,” Merriweather said after the game, referring to how many games they have left this year. “We want to win all three.”
The Richmond Oilers will have another chance at a win next week—for their homecoming game—when they take on the Kennedy High Eagles at home.