ROCKINGHAM – The hunt for the much-anticipated first home win of the season is finally over, as the Richmond Senior High School football team electrified Raiders Stadium Friday with its most explosive offensive performance of the season.
Under dazzling Friday night lights in a “Touchdown Against Cancer Game”, Richmond buzzed its way to a 56-34 victory in its Sandhills Athletic Conference opener against Purnell Swett High School. Racking up a season-high 446 yards of total offense, the Raiders decimated the Rams’ defensive line by finding the end zone eight times, six of which came via the ground attack.
The Raiders (3-2, 1-0 SAC) unloaded a barrage of scoring plays on a Rams (3-2, 0-1 SAC), striking early and often. First-year head coach Bryan Till has used the mantra of his team needing to “flip the switch” earlier in games, and Friday’s performance emulated his vision.
After deferring and opening the game with a failed onside kick (which was a strategy put into place to try and amp up the game’s tempo), the Raiders held Purnell Swett to an early three-and-out situation.
On the fourth play of the game, Rams’ punter Vidal Veslequez attempted a punt at his own 28-yard line that was blocked by senior Clint Snipes, which sent the ball tumbling backward. Senior defensive back Shane Summey fell on the bouncing ball as it trickled into the end zone, giving Richmond an early 6-0 lead with 9:55 remaining in the first quarter. Senior kicker Victor Lucero split the uprights for his first of eight PATs on the night.
“It feels great to get this first win at home in front of our fans,” Till said smiling. “It was great to see our offense rolling. The way we threw the ball, being on time, was also really good tonight.
“But to win, and win convincingly (by 22 points), I’m proud of our guys,” Till added. “I’m proud of how we started the game this week, which is something we’ve struggled with. We’re going to continue to get better.”
Having never trailed in the game, the Raiders didn’t waste time adding to their lead. Scoring on seven of its 11 offensive drives, Richmond scored three minutes later, at the 6:49 mark, when freshman quarterback Caleb Hood connected on his only touchdown pass of the night on the first play of Richmond’s second drive. Hood threw a 66-yard dart to junior wideout Malik Stanback down the sideline, who maneuvered his way past several defenders to cross into the end zone.
By first quarter’s end, Till’s team managed to jump out to a 21-7 lead after sophomore running back Jaheim Covington’s five-yard dash with 1:30 remaining in the first frame.
Richmond utilized a perfectly balanced diet of running and passing offense, as Hood finished the night 14-of-20 passing (a career-high 223 yards), with one touchdown and six 20-plus yard completions. Hood also had two of the six rushing touchdowns, and gained 31 yards on eight attempts. Till noted that Hood was able to move freely around the pocket to create time and space to find his receivers, and is developing like expected.
Richmond junior receiver Malik Stanback catches his 66-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Caleb Hood.
The Raiders’ running attack, led by Covington and senior running back Dante Miller, collected 223 total rushing yards and saw four backs rush for at least 30 yards. Covington finished the night with his best individual performance of the year, gaining just 50 yards on 10 attempts, but wowed Raiders fans with a season-best three-touchdown performance.
Miller led all rushers, on either team, with 72 yards on 14 attempts and had one touchdown. (Miller is in Harrisonburg, Va., at James Madison University Saturday to discuss possible scholarship opportunities; the Richmond Observer will keep you posted on this story). Senior running back Jeremy Wall came off the bench and got a lot of first-team reps late in the game, having his best night through the first five games, tallying 50 yards on 10 carries.
“We mixed up our offense really well tonight,” Till said acknowledging the balance of pass and rush offense. “Caleb did a great job of reading the game, and he ran the ball well, too. He was able to convert on some tough third-and-long situations.”
The second quarter saw less scoring, but following a Hood 12-yard rushing score, Purnell Swett’s offense, led by senior quarterback Luke Oxendine, found a groove. Pulling the closest they would all night on the scoreboard, senior running back Deandre Pankey (7 carries, 67 yards, two touchdowns) received an Oxendine handoff and ran in from five yards out, bringing the score 28-13 after a missed PAT.
Richmond’s final drive of the half lasted only 2:38 on the game clock, but lasted much longer as the Rams committed six penalties, four of which were occurred on consecutive plays. (Both teams struggled all night, as a combined 23 penalties were committed for a total of 228 yards). Hood finished the half’s scoring with his second rushing touchdown of the night, this time a two-yard scramble to his right. Heading into the break, Richmond led 35-13.
The Raiders kept their foot on the pedal in the second half, scoring three more rushing touchdowns. Covington had two (11 yards and three yards) and Miller scored his eighth total touchdown on the season with a six-yard run. Purnell Swett also scored three touchdowns, but failed to gain any momentum to suggest a comeback.
Defensively, Richmond got off to a great start when on the second play of the game senior defensive lineman Delon Wall dropped Oxendine for a 16-yard sack (Richmond’s only of the game). On its 12 offensive possessions, Purnell Swett failed to do anything on seven of them, fumbling twice, having a punt blocked, punting three times and turning the ball over on downs once.
The Rams gained 306 yards of total offense, but only earned 15 first downs, compared to Richmond’s 25. Till, who is the team’s defensive coordinator, was thrilled with his players’ resiliency throughout the game, but noted that his defense could work on keeping the ball out of the end zone a little bit more.
“On the defensive side of the ball, I’d like to see us not allow so many points,” Till noted. “As the guy who calls the plays, it bothers me a little bit. We still have to put four quarters together.
“We held on and did what we needed to do tonight,” he continued. “Everyone needs to be resilient, and be ready to come into the game. I’m glad we’re doing better, and it’s something we can lean on going forward.”
In hopes of getting onto a roll, the Raiders will return to SAC action at home Friday, as neighbor Pinecrest High School will visit Raiders Stadium. The Patriots (3-2, 0-1 SAC) lost 28-14 in week five’s matchup against fellow SAC opponent Seventy-First High School. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
The Richmond Observer, in continuing its “Student Athlete of the Week” segment, will be featuring a Raiders football player this week. Look for our exclusive story and player interview on the RO’s flagship program Live at 5 on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017.