ROCKINGHAM — There were flashes in the pan of successful football for the Richmond Raiders during Friday’s season opener, but what head coach Bryan Till called a lack of offensive continuity resulted in a loss.
For the second straight season, and just the third time since 1986, the Richmond Senior High School football team lost its first game of the year.
The Raiders began their new campaign on Friday, hosting non-conference Seventy-First High School, which has been ranked in the top-three of several statewide pre-season polls.
In what turned out to be a battle on the ground by both teams, Richmond suffered a 41-13 defeat.
Seventy-First controlled the tempo for the majority of the game, running 54 plays on offense and possessing the ball for 29:14, keeping the Raiders’ defense on the field. The Falcons totaled 433 yards of offense.
“We wore down and we played a lot of plays (on defense),” Till said. “We had them in some third-down situations, and it’s not like we didn’t know what was coming. We just had to go out there and stop it.
“It’s not a knock on our kids, it’s hats off to their kids for making those plays,” he added. “It was never an effort issue on our part, our kids kept playing hard. They just executed better than us at what they do. That’s the reason they were in the semifinals last year and ranked as high as they are this year.”
The Falcons scored on their first two possessions, both ending in short runs by junior running back Donovan Frederick.
Capping a nine-play, 73-yard opening series, Frederick punched it in from a yard out. The point-after attempt snap was high and senior Linden Garcia made the tackle.
Leading 6-0 with 7:11 remaining in the opening quarter, Seventy-First forced a Richmond punt and marched back up the field for another score.
Getting inside the red zone, Frederick again squeezed through the line for a 5-yard touchdown, the second of four rushing scores by the Falcons in the game.
A successful two-point conversion run by Jayson Franklin made it 14-0 with 33 seconds left in the first.
The Raiders scored the first of their two first-half touchdowns on their next drive, a 10-play, 80-yard journey.
Senior running back Jaliel Green, who led the Raiders with 62 rushing yards on 10 touches, handled the ball on six plays in the drive and picked up two first downs.
Green broke loose for a 34-yard gain to move Richmond to the Falcons’ 34-yard line. Also helping move the ball downfield were a pair of options from sophomore quarterback Domonic Tillman to sophomore wide receiver Jayden Hamilton for gains of 9 and 15 yards, respectively.
After an 11-yard gain by Green to get to the 6-yard line, he scored on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Green took a direct snap and dashed between blocks set by junior Joe Parsons and sophomore Timothy Sloan for the score.
Junior kicker Billy West was true on the PAT, cutting Richmond’s deficit to 14-7 with 7:50 to go in the first half.
Richmond’s defense thwarted the Falcons’ effort on the next drive, using a Parsons tackle-for-loss on quarterback Deandre Nance after a bad snap to force Seventy-First’s first punt.
Unfortunately, Richmond turned the ball over just a few plays later when Tillman threw an interception in the left flat.
Picking the ball at midfield was Zayvion Hill, who returned it deep and fumbled inside the 10-yard line. But he recovered his own fumble in the end zone for the score.
The PAT made it 21-7 with just under four minutes to go before the break.
Entering the game on the next series under center was sophomore quarterback Evan Hodges, who remained there for the rest of the game.
On the third play of the drive, after two positive-yardage pitches to Garcia, Hodges and Hamilton connected on the pair’s first career varsity touchdown.
Rolling out to his left, Hodges threw a dart to Hamilton, who turned on the jets. Catching the ball at the 44-yard line, Hamilton raced down the left sideline and crossed the goal line for the 67-yard catch and run touchdown.
The PAT was botched, holding Richmond’s deficit at 21-13 with 2:36 left in the half.
Seventy-First would open its lead before halftime, using Nance’s lone passing score of the game.
With 29 seconds before the break, Nance hit Hill on a fade route to the back right corner of the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown, nearly broken up by senior safety Marquan Martin.
Nance crossed the goal line on the two-point try to make it a 29-13 score at the half.
Richmond’s offense stalled in the second half, punting on three of its five possessions. The others resulted in a Hodges interception and a drive that saw the clock run out.
West did his part in the game, averaging 38.8 yards per his four punts. He pinned the Falcons inside the 20-yard line once and special teams held Seventy-First to seven return yards.
Richmond ran just 12 plays in the second half, resulting in -5 yards of offense. For the game, the Raiders totaled 146 yards of offense (75 passing, 71 rushing).
“It was tough because we had a little continuity going and the offense moved the ball well in spurts,” Till said of switching quarterbacks. “We threw a great ball and scored on it. But we didn’t get in a rhythm and that made it tough.
“Some of that has to do with the plays (Seventy-First) made, like the back-to-back sacks by their linebacker (Frederick). He was timing our cadence up before we could freeze or check him.”
The Falcons (1-0) scored on their first two second-half possessions. Nance had a two-yard rushing score and Franklin punched it in from four yards. The Raiders blocked the first PAT and the second attempt sailed left.
A bright spot for the Raider defense came in the fourth quarter when junior defensive back Jarah Cook stripped Isaiah Kirby of the ball inside the red zone. Sophomore linebacker Jason Gainey, in pursuit of the play, recovered the ball at the 14-yard line.
Two plays into Richmond’s drive, Hodges’ pass intended for junior wide receiver Travion Smith was intercepted by Kalen Lucas.
The Falcons finished the game with 314 rushing yards spread across five different backs. Franklin led the team with 106 yards on 10 carries. Nance went 8-of-10 through the air for 119 yards.
Hodges connected on 2-of-5 passing for 75 yards, including a touchdown. Hamilton had 67 receiving yards and added 28 rushing yards on three carries.
“We want to see growth and continue to get better, and these non-conference games do matter,” Till closed. “It’s good for us to play a team that good. Do I think we’re better from it? Yes. It would be even better if we got better and got the win.”
Richmond (0-1) will continue its four-game non-conference schedule to start the season when it hits the road to David W. Butler High School (0-1) next Friday.
The meeting between the Raiders and Bulldogs will kick off at 7 p.m., per Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ policy.
The Richmond Observer will publish a photo gallery of Friday’s season opener soon.