SOUTHERN PINES — When head coach Bryan Till addressed the Raider football team following Friday’s game, he reminded his team “you have to fight like that to be in it and the effort ain’t wasted.”
In what proved to be a close game after a slow start by Richmond, the Raiders nearly pulled off a second-half comeback on the road at Pinecrest High School.
Unable to find the final push against their Sandhills Athletic Conference 4A rival, the Raiders fell 30-27.
The first of two consecutive pivotal SAC 4A games for Richmond, the Raiders saw a 25-game conference winning streak dating back to 2018 snapped.
Every time the Raiders closed the gap against the Patriots (3-2, 1-0 SAC), Pinecrest managed to answer. Till said Richmond had plenty of chances to take control of the game, but the team stepping on its own toes stalled the comeback.
“We gave ourselves plenty of opportunities, it’s just we didn’t make the opportunities count tonight,” Till explained. “We kept getting turnovers, we kept getting big runs, but we kept shooting ourselves in the foot.
“The effort sometimes is what also gave us penalties,” he added. “It wasn’t a good balance tonight. But I’m so, so proud of these kids and how hard they fought. It’s so hard to be proud and lose.”
Pinecrest jumped ahead 10-0 in the first quarter, starting with a 28-yard field goal from Will Miller on the Patriots’ opening drive. Senior defensive end Jacoby Martin forced the kick with a tackle-for-loss on third down.
Following a fumble on Richmond’s first play of its first drive, Pinecrest used the short field to find the end zone.
Using some trickery, Jaylin Morgan lined up in the wildcat and threw a jump pass to Ilyas Kalila for a 5-yard score. Following the PAT, Pinecrest led by 10 points with 6:37 left in the first.
Richmond managed to slow the Patriots down for the majority of the rest of the half, but penalties hindered the Raiders’ offensive rhythm. The Raiders finished the game with 14 penalties for 129 yards.
Before the end of the first quarter, the Raiders went for it on 4th-and-8 from the Pinecrest 29-yard line, but senior quarterback Emoni McBride’s pass fell incomplete.
A miscue by Patriots’ running back Brandyn Hackett on the ensuing drive saw him cough the ball up inside the red zone. Recovering the ball at Richmond’s 11-yard line was senior nose tackle Urijah McDonald.
Escaping a potential score by Pinecrest, McBride and the offense responded with a 15-play, 89-yard scoring drive. Helping move the sticks was a 49-yard reception by sophomore Travion Smith, putting the Raiders at the Pinecrest 10-yard line.
Two snaps later, senior running back Taye Spencer (27 carries, 147 yards) blasted his way into the end zone from 6 yards to get Richmond on the board. Sophomore Billy West tacked on the PAT to make it a 10-7 deficit with 2:51 left in the second.
The Patriots responded with their final score of the half on the first play following the kickoff, a 78-yard catch and run from Mason Konen to Hunter Neifert. Sophomore linebacker Joe Parsons blocked the PAT and the Patriots led 16-7 at the half.
Richmond won the turnover battle against the Patriots, recovering all three of Pinecrest’s fumbles, including two in the second half. The Raiders also had one interception.
Senior linebacker Frazion Steele made a momentum-shifting play on Pinecrest’s first play from scrimmage in the second half. Running back Zymaire Spencer fumbled the ball following a strip by junior safety Jamison Jones, which was scooped up by Steele.
Gathering the ball near midfield, Steele used a wall of blockers to race down the sideline and score. It was his second fumble recovery for a touchdown in two games.
West’s extra point was good and Richmond cut its deficit to 16-14 with 10-10 left in the third.
With Konen not playing the second half, the Patriots turned to their running game and Morgan (22 carries, 154 yards, 2 TDs). Just four plays into the next Pinecrest drive, Morgan raced into the end zone from 30 yards.
Not to be outdone, Spencer and the Raider offense charged right back down the field on a 7-play, 74-yard scoring drive. A series of runs from McBride and Spencer, coupled with a facemask penalty, moved the Raiders into Pinecrest territory.
On first down, Spencer scooted to the left edge of the line and outran the defense for a 28-yard score. The PAT was blocked, but Richmond pulled within a field goal, 23-20, with 6:00 remaining in the third.
A high snap that sailed over Daniel Castillo’s head resulted in another fumble recovery for the Raiders. There to fall on the bouncing ball at the Patriot 48-yard line was junior linebacker Isaiah Lockhart, his first recovery of the season.
The Raiders were unable to produce, going for a fake punt on fourth down that was stopped, giving the ball back.
Lightning would strike again for Richmond’s defense when senior safety Messiah Shaw intercepted a pass on fourth down on the following drive inside the red zone.
Sophomore linebacker K’Mauri Morgan pressured Castillo out of the pocket, whose errant throw was grabbed by Shaw and returned to the 20-yard line.
The drive ended in a Luke McCormick punt and Morgan scored the eventual game-winning touchdown for the Patriots on the next possession. The 6-yard rushing score and Miller’s PAT made it a 10-point lead.
Sophomore wide receiver Raymond Knotts played a big role during the Raiders’ final drive. He caught a 35-yard pass from McBride and hauled in a 19-yard touchdown in the front corner of the end zone.
West’s kick was good and the Raiders trailed 30-27 with 1:51 to play in regulation.
An onside kick attempt didn’t go in the Raiders’ favor, and Pinecrest ran out the clock, ending an 8-year losing streak to Richmond.
McBride finished 9-of-15 passing for 139 yards and added 41 yards on six carries. Knotts was the leading receiver with four catches for 51 yards.
“We were getting big plays and making big plays, but it was a balance issue tonight,” Till said. “We have to be able to take away some of their big plays and get off the field a lot sooner.
“Coming out of halftime without Emerson (Wall) and making that adjustment moving Marquan (Martin) to safety, we weren’t adjusted right for that formation on the touchdown,” he closed. “Losing leadership positions are tough, but if we clean up the execution and alignment stuff, I think we’re talking about a whole different ball game.”
The Raiders (2-4, 1-1 SAC) return to Raider Stadium next Friday for homecoming against Hoke County High School.
The Bucks (3-3, 1-1 SAC) lost to Lee County High School on Friday. In their meeting last season, the Raiders rolled to a 47-14 win. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Note: The stats used in this article were provided by Richmond Senior High School and Pinecrest High School.