ROCKINGHAM — For the first time dating back to 1972, Richmond Senior High School’s inaugural school year, the Raiders and rival Fighting Scots will not meet on the gridiron.
Known across North Carolina as one of the state’s best football rivalries, an already shortened season got at least two games shorter for the Richmond varsity football program this week.
Confirmed by head coach Bryan Till and athletic director Rob Ransom on Tuesday morning, the Raiders will miss their next two games in order to follow COVID-19 protocols “to protect our students.”
Richmond (3-0) was slated to play Seventy-First High School on Thursday, followed by a primetime showdown at home with Scotland High School on Monday, April 5. Both of those games against Sandhills Athletic Conference opponents have been canceled and will not be made up.
“We are quarantining the whole team to make sure that given the circumstances, we’ll be able to come back as soon as possible,” Till said, adding the team opted to quarantine as a whole instead of doing contact tracing.
“This was at the recommendation of the (Richmond County) Health Department and our administration. It’s a decision I’m fully on board with.”
Ransom explained Richmond’s quarantine went into effect on Saturday, March 27, a day after rolling past Lumberton High School to earn its third-straight win of the season. The Raiders will be allowed to resume football activities on Tuesday, April 6, as long as there are no additional setbacks with the COVID-19 protocols.
If Richmond does return on April 6, and the team gets in the NCHSAA’s required three days of practice (April 6-8), the Raiders will be able to conclude the regular season with a road game at Purnell Swett High School on Friday, April 9.
With the required quarantine time, coupled with the shortened season, there won’t be enough days to make up either the Seventy-First or Scotland contests. The NCHSAA will begin playoff seeding on Saturday, April 10.
“It’s frustrating, but it would be more frustrating if it was a week from now,” Till said. “We caught this early enough that we should be able to get the last game in against Purnell Swett.
“The guys are in good spirits, everybody seems to be doing well and we always want to do what’s best for the health and safety of the kids, now and for their future health.”
During Till’s tenure, which started at the beginning of the 2017 season, the Raiders have won the last two regular-season finales against Scotland to earn back-to-back SAC titles. A rivalry that Richmond leads the all-time series with a record of 37-15-1, including the playoffs, will have to wait until next season to be played.
“Our players and coaches look forward to competing with Scotland every year, and this is a rivalry our kids wait for their entire lives,” Till said. “It’s unfortunate we won’t play this season and as head coach, I hate that we haven’t had a normal home Scotland game since I’ve been here.”
In 2017 and 2019, Richmond played on the road against Richard Bailey and the Fighting Scots, splitting the two contests. In between, the 2018 game was rained out on Friday and was played at Raider Stadium a night later, Richmond’s first win over the Scots in eight years.
Despite the team’s current situation, Till said the Raiders are remaining upbeat and still hope to clinch a playoff berth this spring.
Explaining the NCHSAA expected the possibility that some teams across the state would not be able to complete a full season because of the coronavirus, Till noted that a team’s overall conference win percentage is what will help programs qualify for the postseason.
Currently, Richmond and Jack Britt High School are the only two undefeated teams in the SAC standings, both with 3-0 records. Under the NCHSAA’s current playoff format, the top two teams in each conference will get an automatic bid for the 4AA state playoffs.
No minimum number of games or wins were established by the state or the conference in terms of playoff seeding.
“If we win our last game, there is still a lot of good that can happen,” Till said. “Our kids have handled so much to this point, and it has not been easy, but having the chance to play should give the team some fire.”
The Richmond junior varsity football team is also under quarantine and its season has come to an end with a 3-1 overall record.