RACINE — It certainly wasn’t pretty during this chilly Saturday night at Horlick Field.
Satisfying? Yes, the Racine Raiders can claim that much.
As much as the 53-18 final score suggests otherwise, the Raiders were very much in danger of losing to the Grand Rapids Seminoles in their season opener.
Consider this: With 14:39 remaining in the game and the Raiders leading 25-12, they had a second-and-20 at their own 48-yard line. Mitchell Farr’s pass intended for Troy Collier was batted in the air and then intercepted by Eric Whitehead, who returned it for a touchdown.
Suddenly, the Raiders’ lead was trimmed to 25-18 after they led 16-0 at halftime of this non-league game. With five interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, and two lost fumbles at that point, the Raiders just might have melted down.
Instead they regrouped with a massive fourth-quarter surge led by Farr, who hung in there following that interception, his second of the night.
And afterward, Farr admitted that this was one was fun, warts and all.
“This was our first game of the year, so we were just trying to get the kinks out,” said Farr, a former All-Conference basketball player at Case. “It’s fun to play somebody else. We’ve been at each other’s throats for weeks now. We made a couple mistakes, but over time, I think we’ll get that worked out.”
It was actually more than a couple. There were those interceptions, fumbles and 13 penalties for 110 yards.
In fact, it appeared for awhile that the Raiders’ offense would be limited to the 39-year-old leg of T.J. Hearn, who kicked three first-half field goals, and the running of Howard Triplett, who made a spectacular comeback after breaking his left ankle during a game last Aug. 4.
Triplett broke loose for an 82-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter as the Raiders took their 12-0 lead.
But then things got ugly. The Seminoles finally cracked what had been an impressive Raiders defense early in the third quarter, with Craig Holman throwing a 44-yard touchdown pass to Monterio Smith.
And then there was Tony Henner, the only other quarterback on the Raiders’ roster who suffered an unspecified injury during practice Wednesday night.
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While Henner completed five of 10 passes for 107 yards playing only in the third quarter, he was intercepted three times — one of which was returned 99 yards for a touchdown by Malik Williams.
That allowed the Seminoles to pulled to within 23-12. All of a sudden, things were getting interesting.
“We’ve got to do a better job with turnovers,” Raiders coach Wilbert Kennedy said. “We were playing a guy who was injured and he probably shouldn’t have played tonight. He wasn’t really throwing correctly. His form was off.”
But then Farr returned and removed all doubt.
First he ran six yards for a touchdown. After the Raiders’ Jordan Scott returned an interception for a touchdown to give Racine a 32-18 lead, Farr finished off the night with two more scoring passes.
Farr finished the night with 10 completions in 24 attempts for 201 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
But perhaps the biggest standout was Triplett, who consistently burst for nice gains and finished with 229 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. He accounted for 41 percent of the Raiders’ 553 total yards. No other Raider rushed for more than 24 yards.
“I had all these big runs, man, but I wouldn’t have had those two touchdowns without the line,” Triplett said.
Said Kennedy: “He ran really well and was reading his blocks.”
And then there was a Raiders defense that was outstanding most of the night, intercepting six passes, recovering a fumble and producing three sacks. The Seminoles (1-2) finished with minus-four rushing yards in 22 attempts.
“We were stellar,” linebacker Deveron Davis said. “I mean, we gave up a few big plays, but that comes with the game. That’s something we have to work on for next week, but we came to play.”