In the postgame handshake line, a Hollywood-Chaminade Madonna coach grabbed Gio Richardson’s hand and told him, “You’re a leader.”
It would have been the cherry on top of the figurative sundae if the junior quarterback heard that after leading his team to a state title. But Saturday, he had to settle for it being a consolation. He and Oxbridge Academy lost the Class 3A state championship game 31-28 to the Lions on a last-second field goal at Camping World Stadium. The field goal came minutes after Richardson led the ThunderWolves on a late fourth-quarter, game-tying drive.
“It means a lot,” Richardson said. “Last year … I made a lot of mistakes. This year, I didn’t make a lot of mistakes, but I worked every hard, and to hear the coach say that was a great feeling.”
Richardson accounted for all four of Oxbridge’s touchdowns Saturday. He was often harrassed in the pocket, rolling out and having to make plays. More often than not, he did.
The junior ended the game with 286 passing yards and three touchdowns along with 53 yards and another score on the ground.
Richardson got the ThunderWolves on the board on their second drive, responding to Chaminade’s first score with a 1-yard touchdown plunge.
He responded again after the Lions scored a second time, dumping off a pass to running back James Meeks, who fought off three Lions defenders near the end zone to tie it up again.
But it was the final two touchdowns that will stand out.
Chaminade took a 21-14 lead into halftime, and when Oxbridge got the ball back to start the second half, Richardson led a long drive that came up empty; Richardson tossed a fourth-down incompletion. He later threw an interception deep in Chaminade territory.
The Lions later went ahead by two scores. With Chaminade up 14 and loaded with Division I prospects — including running back Shaun Shivers, an Auburn commit who rushed for 216 yards and a pair of scores Saturday — it would have been easy for Richardson and the ThunderWolves to throw up the white flag.
They did not.
Richardson drove back down the field, completing four-of-five passes on the drive before hitting tight end Herman McCray IV for a 17-yard touchdown pass.
Oxbridge held Chaminade to a three-and-out on the next drive, then Richardson took control again. A 10-yard run, a great catch-and-run by McCray and a 30-yard pass to Jordan Cash set the ThunderWolves up. The junior quarterback then hit De’John King for a game-tying, 16-yard score.
“My mentality was play-by-play,” Richardson said. “I just went by that and came out with two touchdowns and came back and tied it.”
But the Lions broke through the ThunderWolves’ defense the following drive, making Chaminade kicker Daniel Longman the hero.
“It was a great feeling,” Richardson said. “(Then) our defense didn’t hold up — though they held up very good the whole game. Shaun is a great running back, and he got the better of us.”
Oxbridge coach Brendan Kent didn’t have many words to say about Richardson after the game. He summed it up in four.
“Played his (tail) off,” Kent said.