Home Local Sports PREVIEW: Raiders kick off new season against Mount Tabor

PREVIEW: Raiders kick off new season against Mount Tabor

ROCKINGHAM — The outcome of season openers historically lean in favor of the Richmond Raider football team.

Dating back to 1986, Richmond hasn’t lost its first game of the season and this year’s team hopes to extend that streak.

Other than a tie against New Bern High School to kick off the 2008 season, the Raiders have won their last 35 Week 1 matchups.

As the countdown to kickoff nears completion, the Raiders will gear up for their first home season opener since 2019. Friday’s showdown is set with non-conference Mount Tabor High School.

The two teams will meet to start the season for the second time in as many seasons. Last fall, the Raiders earned a 56-41 win on the road, which included a 42-7 halftime lead.

According to HighSchoolOT’s preseason rankings, the Raiders are slotted as the No. 5 team in the East for all classifications following a 10-2 season. 

Mount Tabor is currently not ranked, finishing 2021 with a 4-5 record in its first season in the 4A classification.

But head coach Bryan Till said the Raiders aren’t taking the Spartans lightly, noting Mount Tabor “plays in one of the toughest conferences in the state” against teams like East Forsyth, Glenn, Reagan and West Forsyth.

Mount Tabor is coached by Tiesuan Brown, and this will be the fourth all-time meeting between the teams. Richmond is 3-0 in the series, collecting wins in 1998, 2004 and 2021.

“I hope having a (Week 1) home game is a benefit,” Till said. “We’re not in school right now and we have two games before classes start. I’m really hoping to implore the community to come out and support the team since we only have four home games.” 

When asked if there were any first-week jitters for the Raiders, Till said “there might be some on Friday.”

“It’s game week and we’ve been doing this for a while now,” he explained. “We’re focused on getting ready for Friday night right now. But the first Friday night of the season is always going to be that way.”

Like with the start of any new season, Till said he expects the Raiders to channel that energy  into making plays on the field against a talented group of Spartans.

Mount Tabor will enter Raider Stadium on Friday with a couple of returning players in key positions, including senior quarterback Semaj Reaves-Smith and senior running back J.P. Peterkin.


Running a spread offense sprinkled with playmakers, Till said the Spartans have several players who have the potential to play both sides of the ball.

A pocket passer, Reaves-Smith threw for 1,767 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, and added one score on the ground. But he will be without former senior tailback Noah Marshall, who gained 1,115 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in nine games.

Reaves-Smith will have his No. 1 target back in Peterkin, who caught 31 passes for 587 yards and five scores last fall. Shamarius Peterkin, who also plays in the secondary, is the second-best returning receiver with 118 yards and one touchdown.

J.P. Peterkin will carry the weight on the ground for the Spartans, as he’s the team’s leading returning rusher. He collected 278 yards and two scores in 2021, and was complimented by Gio Caesar’s 226 yards and four touchdowns.

“Last year’s experience helps us because we didn’t know much about them then, and we know a little more this year,” Till said. “Their QB and top receiver are back and No. 6 (Shamarius Peterkin) is also a threat. They have a lot of good athletes and are very balanced.

“They also have a really big offensive line with four 300-pounders,” he added. “We could see them line up in two-tight sets, four-wide packages or have a single h-back. No. 2 (Ryan Thiel) can go out wide or play as a tiger.”

Mount Tabor’s defense, Till explained, follows a 3-4 shell but also has some 4-2-5 principles.

Senior middle linebacker Ashton Jarvis returns as the team’s leading tackler, collecting 41 total tackles and three tackles-for-loss last year. Fellow inside linebacker Nicholas Paige-Villalobos is the only other returning player with at least 20 tackles from a season ago.

Jarvis and Paige-Villalobos each had one interception as juniors, and returning safety Kevin Cole II also had one pick to go along with his 11 tackles.

“Their defense really runs hard to the football,” Till commented. “And they blitz all over the place. They have a lot of really thick, hard-nosed guys on defense.

“The Inside backers are both really strong, and their nose tackle is an active kid who comes off blocks really well,” he added. “In order to contain the blitz, our o-line will have to change protections and make reads and checks ahead of time.”

Kickoff against Mount Tabor is set for 7:30 p.m. on Friday. Till added that the threat of weather could potentially move the game time.

Follow the Richmond Observer on Twitter @ROSports_ for live in-game updates. 

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Kyle Pillar is a nine-time North Carolina Press Association award-winning sports editor with The Richmond Observer. Follow the sports department on Twitter @ROSports_ for the best in-depth coverage of Richmond County sports.