ROCKINGHAM – One way to take the wind from beneath your opponent’s wings is to muster up some late-game theatrics and implement suffocating defense. And that’s exactly what the Richmond Senior High School varsity football team did Friday night against the visiting Seventy-First High School Falcons.
As “Raider magic” filled the brisk fall air, a pink-clad crowd packed Raiders Stadium for senior and breast cancer awareness night to watch Richmond come back in the final minutes to earn a 25-19 win.
Entering the last regular season home game of the season, the Raiders (7-3, 5-1) were placed solidly in the fourth spot in the Sandhills Athletic Conference standings. But after its victory over the flightless Falcons (7-3,4-2 SAC), Richmond soared into second place with help from Pinecrest High School who stunned then-second-place Jack Britt 23-13 in Moore County.
“I can’t say how impressed I am with our young men and the fight they had tonight on every side of the ball,” head coach Bryan Till said in a postgame video interview. “Our kids kept overcoming (deficits), and I’m so proud of these young men and (our) coaches for never losing focus for an opportunity to win a ball game.
“I’m just so glad this is how they (the senior players) went out on senior night,” Till said of his seniors. “They deserve that; they put in a lot of hard work. To see them get to this point and overcome when some folks didn’t seem to believe in them, it matters.”
Looking at the stat sheet, Seventy-First held the advantage in several categories, including first downs (24 compared to Richmond’s 12), rushing yards (333 yards to Richmond’s 186), total plays (76 plays to the Raider’s 37) and time of possession which the Falcons controlled for 31:34 of the game’s 48 total minutes.
But sometimes the stats don’t tell the whole story. Using an explosive passing game from freshman quarterback Caleb Hood (9-for-11 passing, 227 yards, two passing touchdowns), the Raiders were able to control the most important category: the final score.
To open the game, Seventy-First looked tuned in as it ran the ball on 10 of its first 13 plays and found itself deep in Richmond territory. After three consecutive plays that failed to reach the end zone from inside the Raiders’ 13-yard line, which included a broken pass play by senior cornerback Tony McRae (who had arguably his best performance of the season) in the corner, the Raiders’ defense forced a fourth-and-three situation.
Opting to not kick the field goal, Seventy-First handed the ball off to senior running back Fabion Jones (game-high 182 yards on 24 carries), who was met by a horde of Raiders defenders. It was the first of the Falcon’s four turnover on downs during the game.
Taking over at its own six-yard line, and on Richmond’s first offensive play of the game, senior running back Dante Miller found a hole up the middle and sprinted into the end zone, but the score was negated due to an illegal block in the back penalty, and the ball was placed at the Seventy-First 21-yard line. Miller (team-high 180 rushing yards on 17 attempts, one touchdown) was credited with his longest gain of the night, an 88-yard burst.
Despite entering the red zone, the Raiders had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by senior kicker Victor Lucero for a 3-0 lead with 4:18 remaining in the first quarter.
The rest of the first half would only see one touchdown scored by each team. Seventy-First scored the night’s first touchdown with 10:28 remaining in the second quarter when it capped off a 10-play, 64-yard drive with junior quarterback Kyler Davis’ dive from two yards out.
Richmond answered just two plays later, when Miller bounced to the right sideline and sprinted in from 56 yards. Miller’s team-leading 16th rushing touchdown of the year was set up by a 20-yard catch and run by junior wide receiver Malik Stanback (five receptions, game-high 186 receiving yards, one touchdown). The Raiders headed into the locker room with a 10-7 lead following a Falcons missed 25-yard field goal as time expired.
Senior cornerback Tony McRae (7) and senior defensive end James Jasper, Jr., (25) tackle Seventy-First quarterback Kyler Davis in Friday’s come-from-behind win.
It was the second half when things got interesting. The third quarter alone saw three lead changes in a 4:27 span. Miller was stripped of the ball on the third play of the half, which was returned for a 44-yard Falcons score.
Just 1:48 later, Hood connected with senior wide out Dashaun Wallace as he cut across the middle of the field for a 39-yard touchdown. Through 10 games in his freshman season, Hood is 109-for-164 passing (66.4 completion percentage) with 12 touchdowns and 1,672 passing yards.
The Falcons would score their final touchdown of the night with 6:12 remaining in the third quarter when Davis handed the ball off to junior Devante Wedlock for a two-yard plunge.
Trailing 19-17 with 4:58 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Raiders defense found its heels on its own goal line. Facing a third-and-goal from the Richmond five-yard line, the Falcons looked to put the game out of reach. But enter “Raider magic.”
Davis handed the ball off to senior running back Juan Maddox, who subsequently fumbled the ball when met by a wall of Richmond defenders. Senior defensive lineman Curtis Freeman muscled his way to the bottom of a mass of players to secure the ball and a chance for Richmond. But that chance failed to develop, as the Raiders went a quick three-and-out.
Due to poor clock management by the Falcons, and another goal line stand by the Raiders’ defense that forced a turnover on downs at the Richmond four-yard-line, Raider magic was awarded a second chance. And this time it worked, taking only 0:16 seconds to go 96 yards to the house.
“Seventy-First is very physical (on offense) and they’re very good at it,” Till noted. “And we just kept changing up the calls, changing up our defensive fronts trying to give them something different.
“Defensively, we made the stops when they counted,” Till continued. “And the heart of our kids is a really big reason.”
Hood orchestrated the magic when he connected on back-to-back passes to Stanback, whose 6-1, 185-pound frame worked flawlessly down the left sideline all night. The first was a comeback route that went for a 10-yard gain and saw Stanback step out of bounds to stop the clock at 2:27.
On the next play, Hood dropped back and looked nowhere else but to his top receiver, and lobbed a ball perfectly over cornerback Jamiese Alston’s hands and into the breadbasket of Stanback. Charging down the left sideline, Stanback dusted several Falcon defenders for an 86-yard score, his fourth, and longest receiving touchdown of the season. This would serve as the game-winning touchdown and the play that catapulted the Raiders into second place in the SAC standings.
The night’s scoring was capped off by some Richmond two-point conversion trickery following Stanback’s touchdown. Sophomore running back Jaheim Covington took a direct snap, handed it off to a sweeping Kaleb Douglas, who then lobbed it to a wide-open Hood.
“At halftime, we were up,” Stanback said. “And I told my teammates it wasn’t over, and that we’ve got to fight until the end.
“We’ve got a great coaching staff,” he continued, “and they drew up a play and we beat them off the get-go.”
Till had nothing but praise for Stanback regarding his late-game heroics.
“The setup for the pass before (the game winner), Malik had a very deep comeback; he’s able to run with such speed, and that set up the next play,” Till noted. “That keeps them (the defense) thinking he’s going to run it again, but he just ran right by them.”
Now the battle to maintain the second spot in the SAC comes down to a season finale next week on the road at rival Scotland High School. The Fighting Scots, who defeated Lumberton High School 63-14 Friday, remains perfect in SAC play (6-0), and has an 8-1 overall record (it lost to No. 1-ranked Mallard Creek High School to open the season).
Richmond will need some help from the Falcons in order to finish in second place, as a Seventy-First win over Jack Britt in the final game of the season will keep the Buccaneers from surpassing Richmond due to a tie-breaker. Richmond lost 41-20 to Jack Britt on October 6, which could push the Raiders to third place if the Buccaneers win against Seventy-First.
“We’ll prepare by looking at film late tonight and early tomorrow morning,” Till said with a smile. “And we’ll make a game plan then.”
On the road to finish the season, Richmond is set for kickoff in Laurinburg at 7:30 p.m. next Friday.