Matchup against Lehigh Valley pits two teams whose last-second comebacks fell short last week

The motto for the Richmond Raiders (3-2) as they prepare for their game with the Lehigh Valley SteelHawks (2-3) Saturday night is simple: Finish.  Starting fast has not been a problem for the Raiders, but in the final seven minutes of the last two games, they have been outscored 35-7. Both teams are coming off heartbreaking losses that might have gone the other way on the last play of the game, making a strong finish critical in their quests to get back in the win column.

The Raiders surrendered a 15-point fourth quarter lead in last week’s 48-42 loss to the Columbus Lions. Though the Raiders moved the ball to the Lions’ eight yard line in the closing seconds, a game-tying touchdown pass was knocked incomplete as the clock struck 0:00. Two weeks ago, the Raiders seemingly had the game against Lehigh Valley in hand as they led by 28 midway through the fourth quarter.  But a SteelHawk rally closed the gap to just 10 points before the Raiders held on for a 62-51 win.

Mike Jones ran for three touchdowns against the Lions, increasing his league-high total to 12 – twice as many as anyone else.  He also leads the PIFL in rushes (54), yards (224), and yards per game (44.8).  Herb Jones set career highs with 14 catches and 150 yards, including a couple of impressive catches-and-runs that set up the Raiders inside the Columbus five. The Raiders turned the ball over three times, but their defense bailed them out, yielding no points off those turnovers.  However, the offense managed just one first down and no points over the final three possessions.

The first meeting between the Raiders and SteelHawks saw Richmond score on offense, defense, and special teams in building an early 9-0 lead, and strike from 40 yards out for a touchdown on the last play of the first half. Mike Jones’ fourth touchdown run of the game pushed the Raiders’ lead to 28 points before SteelHawks QB Adam Bednarik led a spirited Lehigh Valley comeback that fell just short.  Defensive lineman Brandon Sutton led the Raiders with 3.5 sacks, three additional tackles for a loss, and three quarterback hurries that contributed to Bednarik’s four intentional grounding penalties.

The SteelHawks find themselves in a two game losing streak after their comeback against the league leading Alabama Hammers ended one play short of forcing overtime. The lead changed hands six times in the fourth quarter alone, but a costly fumble by QB Hunter Wanket in the final minute, trailing by one, gave Alabama a golden opportunity to increase their lead to eight with  34 seconds left. Wanket drove his team 40 yards, throwing a touchdown pass to Tyrone Collins with no time left to set up the dramatic finish. Wanket’s two point conversion pass went incomplete, and the Hammers escaped with a 79-77 win. Wanket threw for 329 yards and ran for 74, setting a PIFL record with 403 yards of total offense.  He started since Bednarik suffered an injury in the game against the Raiders, but no matter who starts on Saturday, Lehigh Valley’s offense should remain potent. Wanket and Bednarik are 1-2 in the league in passing efficiency, while the Raiders rank last in pass efficiency defense.

Saturday’s matchup will be broadcast live on the Raiders’ website,  Coverage from Stabler Arena in Bethlehem, PA starts with the pregame show at 6:30; kickoff is slated for 7:00.