Trailing at halftime on Saturday night, the Atlanta Havoc put up 32 unanswered points, thanks in part to five second-half interceptions that proved costly to the Richmond Roughriders as they fell 58-50 in the American Arena League championship game.
The Roughriders, who won the Arena Pro Football League title last June at the Coliseum, went into the half with a 43-26 lead. This was only the second time in franchise history the Roughriders loss. They finished the season with an 11-2 record, the same as the Havoc.
Richmond was set to have one final possession, but the Roughriders were penalized for an illegal defense on a play where Atlanta took an intentional safety to run additional clock. The Havoc got the ball back and were able to run out the clock and claim the title.
Atlanta coach Boo Mitchell called his team's win breathtaking. The Havoc went through a lot during the season, he said, including a change in their ownership. Mitchell said that a lot of guys had opportunities to leave, but they didn't. They stayed to accomplish what they did Saturday.
"So to see it all come to fruition, it's overwhelming, it just really is," Mitchell said. "Just emotionally, it's overwhelming."
Early on, it was a 14-14 game after Havoc quarterback Lee Chapple found Alex Coleman for a 30-yard touchdown with 8:47 to play in the opening quarter.
Richmond responded on its next possession when quarterback Robert Kent connected with a leaping D’Mauri Jones in the back of the end zone for a 2-yard score. The Roughriders completed their 2-point conversion try and led 22-14 with 4:25 left in the first quarter.
After that, it looked as if an interception by Roughriders defender Mike Carey could've a game-defining play. The Roughriders and Havoc had gone tit for tat up until that point, but that Carey interception, and the subsequent Richmond score, allowed the Roughriders to create a little distance between them and the Havoc.
Kent found Jones for a 5-yard touchdown following the interception, and Richmond carried a 29-14 lead with 11:32 left in the first half. Atlanta wouldn’t get closer than nine the rest of the half.
"Just playing with energy, trying to play Roughrider football," Richmond coach Mook Zimmerman said of his team's first half.
In the locker room at halftime, Chapple slipped, fell and hit his head. He was examined, and it was determined that it was possible he had a concussion. So the Havoc turned to Darren Daniel at quarterback.
In his halftime remarks, Mitchell told his team not to quit.
"I said, 'Forty-three points in the first half, are you kidding me? And we got one of the best defenses in the league. Stop whining, stop complaining, just got out there and play football,' " Mitchell said. "I said, 'We have not played our best game of football yet. Just go play football.'
"And that's what we did the second half."
Daniel found Thyron Lewis Sr. for a 26-yard touchdown to open the second half and make it a 43-33 game, as the Havoc began closing in.
Richmond sent former Virginia Tech standout Bryan Randall out at quarterback in the second half. Zimmerman said that Kent was dealing with a cramp. On the Roughriders' first possession of the half, Randall was picked off by Micheaux Robinson, who ran in for a score to cut the Richmond lead to three, 43-40, with 10:46 to play in the third quarter Randall was intercepted by Robinson again on the next Richmond possession. And the Havoc went on to score on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Daniel to Lewis to take its first lead, 47-43, with 6:07 left in the third quarter.The momentum had flipped completely. "I could see it in their eyes, I could see it in their demeanor," Robinson said. "Everything changed. The entire vibe in the arena changed. So that's kudos to our guys for stepping up and not giving up."The Roughriders re-inserted Kent at quarterback after that, but did not see a change in fortune. Kent was intercepted by Thyrell Lewis with 5:30 to play in the third quarter. Lewis intercepted Kent again early in the fourth quarter. And Kent was picked by Laroche Jackson a bit later, off a deflection.
Meanwhile, Daniel ran it in from the 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter, as the Havoc took a 55-43 lead and never really looked back.
Richmond did add a 30-yard touchdown from Kent to Rashaad Carter with two minutes to play, to cut the Atlanta lead to 58-50. But it was too little too late.
"We been through so much together, man, it was destiny tonight," Robinson said. "We played for each other, and we got it done."