ROCKINGHAM – It’s no secret that the Richmond Senior High School Raiders football team has an explosive high-caliber offense that has the ability to put up big numbers on any given week. But it was the Raiders defense that locked down the crowd’s attention Friday night, as Richmond defeated Sandhills Athletic Conference rival Pinecrest High School 28-7.
Head coach Bryan Till, who also acts as the team’s defensive coordinator, made it known that he wanted to see his defense play shut-down football. And that’s exactly what they did, as Richmond (4-2, 2-0 SAC) held the Patriots (3-3, 0-2 SAC) to just 173 yards of total offense and gave up a season-low seven points, compared to last week’s 34 points given up to Purnell Swett High School.
In the “Touchdown Against Cancer Game,” the Raiders defense stunted multiple Pinecrest drives deep in their own territory, and racked up seven tackles for a loss. On the Patriots’ eight offensive drives, Till’s defense stopped seven of them, forcing four punts, snagging two drive-ending interceptions, and got the ball back on a turnover on downs.
“Our kids’ focus (on defense) was there all four quarters tonight,” Till said. “We’ve known we could play better, and we know our kids are capable of doing it. Tonight, we had some good speed, and were able to make things happen.
“We stopped Pinecrest twice on fourth downs (deep in Richmond’s territory), and it’s a whole different ball game if we don’t make those stops,” Till added. “The two stops inside our own 40-yard line were huge momentum and confidence builders for our defense.”
Pinecrest took the opening kickoff, and quickly gained a first down, but punted three plays later. Richmond, too, struggled offensively to start, going three-and-out and committed a personal foul penalty on the ensuing junior Kyle Goodwin punt. After a missed 40-yard field goal by senior kicker Victor Lucero, the defense picked up the early offensive lull, as it forced Pinecrest to punt the ball on its first three possessions.
Most notably was senior cornerback Kaleb Douglas’ interception that stopped a Pinecrest drive deep in Richmond’s territory. On a fourth-and-nine play at Richmond’s 36-yard line, Patriots junior quarterback Greg Vansteen tried to connect with his receiver, but Douglas made a great read and jumped the route to make a sprawling catch at the 18-yard line, stopping one of Pinecrest’s few deep drives.
With the game scoreless at the end of the first quarter, it was the Raiders who got things rolling in the second frame. Freshman quarterback Caleb Hood, who is the reigning Official Richmond County Athlete of the Week, nearly connected with senior wideout Jaleen Baldwin, who was wide open down the right sideline, but the ball was just out of reach.
On their opening drive of the second quarter, the Raiders showed resiliency and chipped away at the Patriots defense using the backfield tandem of senior Dante Miller and sophomore Jaheim Covington. The two backs split duties on a nine-play, 62-yard drive that resulted in Miller dashing in from 11 yards out with 8:29 remaining in the first half.
Senior running back Dante Miller gained a game-high 119 yards rushing Friday.
The Raiders offense tallied 378 yards of total offense, with 202 yards coming via the ground attack. Miller, whose running style is to be patient and find gaps in the defense, had a game-high 119 rushing yards on 19 attempts, and crossed the goal line twice. Covington, who tends to run head-first up the middle, gathered 57 yards on 12 carries and tacked on a touchdown of his own (a two-yard run at 2:45 in the second quarter).
Hood had a solid night behind center, completing 68 percent of his passes, going 13-for-18 with 179 yards passing. His longest pass of the night went to senior wide receiver Dashaun Wallace, a 56-yard bomb that resulted in Richmond’s only passing touchdown of the night (10:39 in the third quarter). Hood also gained 27 rushing yards in six carries.
Richmond’s receiving core had an all-around good night, as junior wide receiver Malik Stanback notched a game-high 70 receiving yards on five catches. Wallace finished the night with 63 yards on two receptions. Hood connected with Baldwin (3-for-18 yards), junior Jordyn Wall (2-for-16 yards) and senior Clint Snipes (1-for-13 yards) for a combined six catches for 47 yards.
Junior receiver Malik Stanback with one of his game-high six receptions.
Scoring on three consecutive drives (two to close out the second quarter; opening drive in the third quarter), the Raiders maintained a firm 21-0 lead before Pinecrest got on the board. Vansteen dropped back and connected with senior wide receiver Alex Scott 34 yards down the left sideline for the Patriots only score of the night. Raiders defensive backs Douglas and senior Jerren Stuart both contested the ball, nearly picking it off.
Miller ended the night’s scoring as the Raiders showed no mercy to their Moore County rival, and scampered in from 12 yards out with 1:49 left in the game. To make things better, Raiders senior strong safety Jaquan Everett ended any Pinecrest hope of a comeback when he intercepted the ball moments later at the Patriots’ 25-yard line. Hood and the offense came out and took a knee in the victory formation.
In prepping for Friday’s game, Till acknowledged that his team wanted to keep the clock in mind, as well as the offense on the field to limit Pinecrest’s scoring opportunities. And that they did.
“The big thing we did was take a page out of (Pinecrest’s) playbook,” Till said. “We ate it, we milked the clock. We did what they do, as far as smashing it and moving the chains. We got some big plays, and that’s the thing that allowed us to keep running the ball like that. The compliment between the run and passing game allowed for Dante and Jaheim to have a good night.”
Another goal set forth by the Raiders is to take each conference game one at a time and finish the week 1-0. Through the first two weeks, they’ve been successful.
“Pinecrest is a good football team,” Till noted. “They’re going to beat some other teams in conference. It gives us good leverage, playoff leverage, in beating a team that has a quality schedule itself. It helps us with playoff and conference seedings. We’re just trying each week to earn a conference title.”
Richmond will hit the road next week in their quest to remain perfect in SAC play. As they’re 2-0 on the road this season, the Raiders will visit new conference opponent Jack Britt High School (3-3, 1-1 SAC). The Buccaneers defeated Lumberton High School 30-24 Friday to get back to .500. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Stay tuned to the RO for a game preview, its Official Richmond County Athlete of the Week, and exclusive interviews and recap of next Friday’s game.