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Raiders’ Offense Explodes for 47 points in SAC Title Game Loss to Scotland; Aim to “Keep Heads Up” as Playoffs Approach

Senior running back Dante Miller rushed for 124 yards on 17 carries in Friday's 69-47 loss to rival Scotland County.
Photo courtesy of Jimmy McDonald.

LAURINBURG, N.C. – Resiliency has been a common theme throughout the 2017 season for the Richmond Senior High School varsity football team. It has battled back to win several games, most recently last week against Seventy-First High School.

But the Raiders’ resiliency, though rigorous and highly productive, came up short Friday night as they couldn’t muster enough points to overcome Scotland High School in an intense season finale at Pate Stadium. For the seventh straight year, Richmond lost to its biggest rival, this time a 69-47 thriller that ultimately gave the Fighting Scots the inaugural Sandhills Athletic Conference title.

In what became the highest-scoring game all time between the two schools in their 51st meeting, Richmond (7-4, 5-2 SAC) managed to put on one of its best offensive performances of the season. However, the defense couldn’t limit the big plays of Scotland’s (9-1, 7-0 SAC) running game, and thus came up short in the end.

“Our offense was explosive tonight,” head coach Bryan Till said of his offense. “They were getting huge chunk plays. I’m really proud of those guys; it was a big night for them.”

Combined, the two offenses accounted for 1,123 total yards of offense, and though there were clutch defensive plays, neither team was effective in stopping the other from finding the end zone. Richmond (season-high 570 yards of total offense) relied heavily on its passing game to pick apart Scotland’s defense, while the Fighting Scots (553 yards of total offense) found their success out of the backfield.

The first quarter saw six total scores, as the Fighting Scots jumped out to a 27-14 lead by quarter’s end. Starting at the Richmond 44-yard line on its first drive of the game following a big return by senior Khalil Smith, Scotland took just two plays to start the scoring when senior running back Zamir White took a handoff from senior quarterback Warren Bell and sprinted in from 30 yards out, taking a 7-0 lead just 0:42 into the game.

White, who is a University of Georgia commit, finished the night with 310 rushing yards on 23 carries (13.4 yards per carry) and four rushing touchdowns. Bell, who is a run-first quarterback, added 210 rushing yards on 21 attempts and added three rushing touchdowns of his own; he was just 2-of-8 passing for 17 yards. The 536 total rushing yards earned by the Scots was their second-best rushing performance this season (629 rushing yards against Seventy-First on October 13).

Richmond was able to answer on its opening drive and tie the game when senior running back Dante Miller capped off a five-play, 75-yard drive with an eight-yard scramble. Miller’s score was set up by a 30-yard catch and run by senior wide receiver Dashaun Wallace on Richmond’s first play from scrimmage. Tied at seven with 10:11 remaining in the first quarter, it was no question that it would be a high-scoring affair.

Miller finished the night with 124 yards on 17 carries (7.3 yards per carry) and three rushing touchdowns. He also caught four passes for 65 yards, aiding freshman quarterback Caleb Hood’s season-best performance. Hood netted career highs in passing yards (423 passing yards) and touchdowns (four) while going 24-for-46 from the pocket.

The Scots’ relentless running attack helped them score on nine of their 12 possessions, and four straight to start the game. To round out the first quarter, Bell scored on a six-yard run on the team’s second possession, while White tacked on a 33-yard rushing score and a 90-yard kickoff return on the two subsequent possessions.

But the Raiders weren’t to be discounted, as Hood connected with Wallace on a 25-yard inside curl route on Richmond’s third possession to pull the score to 20-14 with 2:14 remaining in the opening frame. Wallace had himself a night, snagging seven receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns, with four of his catches going for over 20 yards.

Senior wide receiver Dashaun Wallace (13) had seven catches for 123 yards and a game-high two receiving touchdowns.

“The goal was to get a touchdown every time,” Wallace said after the game. “We wanted to keep moving the ball with no negative plays. We tried hard tonight, but we just couldn’t get it.”

Fellow junior wideout Malik Stanback, who had the game-winning 86-yard touchdown catch a week prior, also came up big with seven receptions and a game-high and season-best 154 yards receiving. Stanback also caught one of Hood’s four touchdown passes. Stanback also had four catches of 20-plus yards throughout the game to give Richmond seven of its 29 first downs, with his longest reception going for 36 yards.

Senior wide receiver Malik Stanback (2) catches his only touchdown of the night.

The second quarter belonged to the Raiders, as they outscored the Scots 13-7. Miller earned his second touchdown of the night when he plowed in from 13 yards out with 10:13 remaining before the break. Senior kicker Victor Lucero missed the extra point, but was helped out by the Raiders defense, which managed to stop a charging Scots offense on a fourth-and-nine play deep in Richmond territory and get a turnover on downs.

The defensive stop initiated a momentum swing, as the Raiders held the Scots to a three-and-out on their next possession, forcing them to their only punt the entire game. Better yet, Richmond tied the game at 27 with 30.5 seconds remaining in the half when Hood threw a 30-yard dart over the top to Stanback who split two defenders up the middle of the field.

However, the Scots took a 34-27 halftime lead when Bell threw his only passing touchdown on the night, a 23-yarder to sophomore wide receiver Bruce Wall as time expired. Bell was nearly sacked, but escaped the pressure to find a wide-open Wall in the back left corner of the end zone. This would be the smallest differential in the score the rest of the game.

“I wish we could have done a better job on defense,” Till noted. “Hats off to Scotland for executing in the face of us slanting and blitzing right into them. We had guys there, but we just got beat.

“We had guys hitting gaps, and guys who had chances to make tackles,” Till continued. “Those guys (for Scotland) are super athletes and they beat us. We had some guys freeze several times.”

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Richmond’s Marquis Simmons (34) and Malik Flowers (15) combine to tackle Scotland running back Syheam McQueen (5).

Perhaps if the Raiders didn’t allow the first-half kickoff return just seconds after scoring themselves, or give up the late first-half touchdown, the outcome of the game may have been different.

Richmond received the second half kickoff, but failed to do anything with it, as junior punter Kyle Goodwin booted the ball for his second, and final, time in the game. The Scots would outscore the Raiders 35-20 in the second half behind four straight scoring possessions. Bell added touchdown runs of 42 and 62 yards, while White had a pair of rushing scores (two and six yards, respectively).

Hood’s only blunder came with 7:54 remaining in the fourth quarter when, pinned inside of his own 10-yard line, he threw a pick-six to senior middle linebacker Marqwues Wilson, which put the Scots up 62-40 after a missed extra point attempt by senior kicker Tripp Wells.

But the Raiders offense remained focused and chipped away at the Scotland lead one play at a time. Miller would finish his scoring with his third touchdown of the night with 3:03 remaining in the third quarter, as he wrapped up a 12-play, 64-yard drive with a four-yard dash on third-and-two.

“Passes out of the backfield helped me and the whole offense tonight,” Miller noted. “The defense played up instead of loading the box, and it helped us out.

“I think that if we come into the playoffs with the intensity we had tonight, we’ll make a good run,” he added. “We have to keep our heads up.”

Hood would connect on two more passing touchdowns in the second half, the first a 12-yard lob to senior tight end Gordon Pihl, which cut the Scots’ lead to 49-40. On the two-point conversion attempt, Hood ran a play-action fake and had Pihl in the end zone unattended, but the pass fell incomplete after Pihl was contested after receiving the ball.

Senior tight end Gordon Pihl caught his first touchdown of the season during the fourth quarter of Friday’s loss.

The Raiders would end their scoring when Hood found Wallace for the second time on the night, this time a 28-yard completion with 6:52 remaining in the game.

Though the offense went score-for-score with the Scots, defensively, Richmond struggled to eliminate big-time explosive plays. Friday night’s loss included the most points (69) and total yards (553) the Raiders had given up all season.

Friday’s loss saw the Raiders net 47 points, which was 47 more than they were able to get in 2016’s meeting between the two teams. Last year’s 21-0 loss was only the second time in the last 20 years that the Raiders were held off the scoreboard.

But there is some light at the end of the tunnel coming out of Pate Stadium for the Raiders. Despite their loss to Scotland, Seventy-First helped them out by defeating Jack Britt High School 33-20 in its season finale, which kept Richmond tied for a second-place finish in the SAC. With Richmond’s 25-19 victory over the Falcons on October 27, the head-to-head victory will give Richmond a higher playoff seeding than their SAC standings equal.

Following the game, Till addressed his team by saying that the outcome of the game may not have been what he wanted, but he wants his players to “keep their heads up.” As the North Carolina 4AA playoffs are set to begin on November 10, Till informed his players that a playoff run is laid out before them and they need to grasp it and make magic happen.

At the time of this publication, the playoff bracket had not been released. But based on the Raiders’ finish and win over Seventy-First, they should receive a No. 2 seed and a home playoff game.

When asked what his thoughts were on his first Richmond/Scotland game, Till noted that the atmosphere was what he expected, but his focus is on preparing for the playoffs.

“This is what high school football should be about, and it’s great to see these two communities’ support,” Till said. “The great thing about high school football is that’s not just about the kids on the field, but it’s about tying into everybody and giving yourself the chance to be tied to something deeper.

“We just have to see who our seed is going to be,” Till added about the playoffs. “I’d like get started right away on another game and put this loss behind us.”

As the Raiders march into the playoffs next week, they should take Friday’s SAC title game loss with a grain of salt. There’s still a lot of resiliency and Raider magic left in the tank, and they’ll look to use it in the opening round of the playoffs.

 

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Kyle Pillar is a 16-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.