With Richlands driving for a potential go-ahead score, Mullins stepped in front of a pass, snagged it and sprinted 97 yards down the sideline to highlight the Warriors’ 28-16 win at Warrior Stadium.
“It was incredible,” Mullins said of his pick-6 that secured Central football’s first postseason win in its nine-year history. “As soon as I saw it, I just win for it and just went as quick as I could to try to make it back to the end zone.”
Mullins accounted for two more offensive touchdowns earlier in the game, a 14-yard touchdown pass to Ben Brickey in the second quarter and a 5-yard strike to Matthew Boggs in the third.
The victory continues a record-setting season for Boggs and his young teammates. Central (9-2) also was playing its postseason home game after beginning the season with a roster featuring 15 sophomores, 18 freshmen and a combined 14 juniors and seniors.
“It’s very exciting. I’m very proud of the whole team and the coaches, everybody,” Mullins said.
Central coach Luke Owens was thrilled with the way his team battled throughout the game.
“The kids played hard,” Owens said. “They had our backs against the wall a couple of times and we just made plays. We just continued to make plays. Ethan with the big interception, that was a back-breaker.
"I just couldn’t be happier. I’m proud of my kids and proud of my coaches.”
TORNADO HITS QUICK
Richlands (6-5) wasted little time getting on the scoreboard.
The Blue Tornado drove the ball 65 yards on the game’s opening drive and went up 7-0 after Sage Webb scored from 3 yards out less than three minutes into the contest.
The teams’ defenses kept the offenses in check for most of the first half.
“I thought defensively we were lights out,” Owens said. “We had them dialed up pretty good.”
Central’s first score came with 7:25 to play in the second quarter. Mullins capped a 55-yard drive by connecting with Brickey, the Warriors’ only score of the opening half.
In the second half, Richlands went up 10-7 on a 37-yard field goal by Levi Forrest with 6:27 to play in the third quarter.
Richlands stopped Central and looked to be driving again, but a fumble recovered by the Warriors’ Tyson Tester changed the momentum.
Tester picked up the ball and took it to the Richlands 15. Four plays later, Mullins hit Boggs for a 5-yard touchdown pass to put Central up 14-10 with 1:15 left in the third quarter.
Richlands moved the ball again on its next drive.
Starting at the Central 48, the Tornado drove to the 16 before Mullins picked off the pass and went the other direction for the Warriors.
“Their kids executed and they made plays when they had to and you’ve got to give them credit,” said veteran Richlands coach Greg Mance. “(Tester) came up and made a nice little play on Sage (Webb) on a hitch route and broke the ball loose, and that led to one score for them, and then they turn around and we drive it down the field and they get a pick-6.
“That was the story of the ballgame.
“We just couldn’t run the ball on them,” Mance said. “We used tight ends. We used one tight end, we used two tight ends. We tried counters, inside zones, guts, power reads. We just couldn’t run the football, and give those guys credit. And then when we threw it, we were a step off.”
FINISHING IT OFF
Richlands never quit.
The Blue Tornado drove 78 yards for their final score, a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Cade Simmons to cut the Central lead to 21-16 with 2:53 left.
After a penalty, and facing second-and-18 at its own 46, Central went with its offensive leader. Junior C.J. Crabtree ran to the Richlands 40 and followed that with another strong rush, a 40-yard sprint up the middle of the field for the game’s final points.
Crabtree finished with 143 yards on 21 carries.
ON TO THE SEMIFINALS
Central advanced to next week’s Region 2D semifinals. The Warriors will travel to top-seeded and Mountain 7 District co-champion Ridgeview.
Ridgeview beat Central 41-20 in their regular-season meeting on Sept. 13.