ROCKINGHAM – It was the team’s goal entering the season, and as the season finale is just days away, the Richmond Senior High School Raiders football team can still manage a co-conference championship in the inaugural season of the Sandhills Athletic Conference.
But standing between the Raiders (7-3, 5-1) and championship glory is rival Scotland High School (8-1, 6-0) and a six-game losing streak to the Fighting Scots. With a win Friday, the Raiders would be tied with Scotland in overall and conference record, and would share the SAC title. The SAC does not recognize head-to-head matchups when determining the conference title; it only decides seeding for the playoffs.
One thing that was missing during the past six matchups was head coach Bryan Till, who has led the Raiders to a 7-3 overall record in his first season. And he’s made a point to himself, and to his team, that no one is worried about the losing streak.
“Scotland is really good,” Till admitted. “Physically, athletically and scheme-wise, they’re very sound. But we are telling our kids to do their assignments and to run to the football (on defense).
“But who’s counting,” Till said about the last six games between the two perennial powerhouses.
With the SAC title on the line, it only seems to be a fitting narrative as Richmond will head to Laurinburg Friday night. The Raiders are looking to redeem last year’s 21-0 loss to the Scots, which was only the second time in Richmond’s storied history that it was blanked on the scoreboard (lost 27-0 to Providence High School in 2006).
During the last six contests, the Raiders have been outscored 194-69, and haven’t scored more than 21 points (2015) at any point against the Scots. But perhaps this season’s meeting will have a different end result, as the Raiders are averaging 35.3 points per game this season.
Richmond is making the trip down US 74 East into the most hostel environment it’ll face all season. Scotland packs a punch with a star-studded cast of players on both sides of the ball, including the No. 18 ranked running back in the state (according to Maxpreps) senior Zamir White.
Posing a threat to a Richmond defense that has allowed 23.8 points per game this season, White has rushed for 1,625 yards on 117 attempts, and is averaging 180.6 yards per game. The University of Georgia commit has collected 27 rushing touchdowns in 2017, and has added three more scores via receptions. White leads the Scots with 1,941 all-purpose yards through nine games played.
Richmond will also have to be wary of senior quarterback Warren Bell, who is averaging more rushing yards per game (104.4 ypg) than passing yards per game (79.6 ypg). Bell has multiple targets to throw to, including senior Khalil Smith (five receiving touchdowns) and White.
Among several strong defensive players for Scotland is senior middle linebacker Javon Ratliffe, who has five sacks and one fumble recovery. Ratliffe, along with senior offensive lineman Tyler Smith, was named to the 2017 Shrine Bowl of Carolinas.
“Zamir is really good, and we can’t stop him,” Till said. “He’s going to get yards, but we have to limit the big plays. They big-play teams to death. They ran for 629 yards against Seventy-First.
“They’ve only punted the ball six times in nine games,” Till added. “I say that to say their offense is really good. We have to contain their explosive plays. And we need to score when we have the opportunity to score.”
Breaking down Richmond’s offense, the Raiders will need big performances from senior running back Dante Miller (119.8 ypg, 16 rushing touchdowns) and freshman quarterback Caleb Hood (1,672 passing yards, 12 touchdowns). In order to stop the Scots, sophomore running back Jaheim Covington and junior wide receiver Malik Stanback, among other key position players, will need to have a standout game.
Till’s defense, which is led by defensive end Delon Wall (60 tackles, five sacks), strong safety Jaquan Everett (54 tackles, three interceptions), and cornerbacks Kaleb Douglas (three passes defended, one interception) and Tony McRae (nine passes defended, one fumble recovery), will have to play lights out and stick to their coach’s request to limit big plays.
Friday’s season finale holds big playoff implications, as a win would make Richmond the sole winner of the SAC, and almost guarantee a No. 1 seed in the North Carolina state playoffs. A loss, coupled with a Jack Britt High School loss to Seventy-First would keep the Raiders locked into the second-place standing, and almost undoubtedly give the Raiders a No. 2 seed.
The rivalry between the Raiders and the Scots dates back to 1972, the year of Richmond’s inception. In the 50 previous meetings, Richmond holds a 35-14-1 overall record, and won 16 straight contests from 1995 to 2010. In the 50-year span, 10 meetings have been decided in the final 90 seconds, and 21 meetings have resulted in a final score of seven points or less between the two teams.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Pate Stadium. The Richmond Observer will have in-game coverage, as well as postgame interviews and a full recap.