ROCKINGHAM — There has been a lot of noise surrounding No. 2 Richmond’s second round playoff game this Friday — but all is quiet and going as normal for head coach Bryan Till and the Raiders.
Richmond is set to host No. 10 Ronald Reagan High School after not playing for two weeks thanks to a first-round bye. The Reagan Raiders upset their rival No. 7 West Forsyth High School 34-20 in the opening round, just a week after losing to the Titans to close out the regular season.
Reagan’s rollercoaster with West Forsyth has since sparked the team’s so-called “redemption tour” through the North Carolina High School Athletic Association state playoffs, with the team taking to Twitter to let the football world know that Richmond is next on its list.
But for Till and company, Friday’s game is just that — another game and a chance to win the first of four games to claim the 4AA state championship. And of course, complete the infamous “eight year” cycle.
“They (Reagan) saw the bracket and they had West Forsyth and then us, two teams that have beaten them this year,” Till said in his office on Monday. “They’re excited about opportunity to face opponents who have beaten them and get revenge. They’ve been very vocal about it, which adds a little fuel to things.
“For us, we’re going to play football really hard no matter who it is,” he continued. “Our kids are excited for their first game in second round. We’re just going to stay focused and work hard on the field when the time comes.”
This will be the second time this season that Reagan will make the trip to Raider Stadium, the first time being the season opener, a 54-18 Richmond victory. But in the months since the two Raider squads met, a lot of football has been played.
Till’s team won its first Sandhills Athletic Conference title in eight years, and is currently on a nine-game winning streak. Richmond (10-1) hasn’t lost since the second week of the season when it traveled to two-time defending 4AA state champion Wake Forest High School.
For Josh McGee’s Reagan Raiders (8-4), the season ended in a third-place finish in the Central Piedmont Conference. According to Maxpreps’ adjusted rankings, Richmond is the No. 7 team in 4A play with a strength of schedule of 25.4 (near the top in the state), while Reagan is the No. 21 ranked team with a strength of schedule of 17.6.
Over the weekend, Till compared the second-round playoff game to a chess match, but said things will be “different” this time around as both teams are preparing for a non-conference program in which they’ve already faced this year.
“We know our tendencies and what they’re going to see, and we’ve already played them twice in the last two years,” Till explained. “We’ll look at what we’ve done well scheme-wise and make adjustments to what we see in film of Reagan (from later in the season).
“In a situation like this, we’re looking at personnel and how we both use different players,” he added. “It’s very different because these aren’t things we don’t normally have to consider.’
Till also noted that the extra time between games has served its purpose, explaining that his players and coaches have used the bye week to get healthy, take extra reps in practice and enjoy the experience of playoff football.
“There’s been a really positive impact off the bye week,” the head coach said. “But this week has been the same as any other during the season — it’s just a normal week of prep. The kids’ focus has been great in practice, and it’s huge for them to have such great focus.
“We just have to continue all week and have that same intensity on Friday,” Till said. “We’re looking at Friday – not ahead. We have to throw our best out there now so we can throw our best out there later.”
Expected to play Friday will be every starter, including the return of junior tailback Jaheim Covington. In the regular season finale against Purnell Swett High School two weeks ago, Covington sat out to allow his injured ankle an extra week to heal in anticipation for the playoffs. He’ll be joined in the backfield by fellow junior running back LaCyrus Ellerbe, as the two combined for five rushing scores in the Week 1 win over Reagan.
Also leading the Raiders will be sophomore quarterback Caleb Hood, who now has two seasons and one playoff game of experience under his belt. Against Reagan on Aug. 17, Hood connected with Jahan Jones and Dalton Stroman for touchdown passes, while also rushing for a score.
On defense, Till’s Raiders are coming off their fourth shutout of the season, and is looking to limit a Reagan offense that’s averaging 31.8 points for game. However, the odds look good for Richmond, as its defense is holding opponents to a staggeringly low 11.1 points per game.
For the Reagan Raiders, Till and his players are preparing for the same handful of players they did the first time around. Reagan is led by junior quarterback Gabriel Hollingsworth, who was injured during the season opener and didn’t return in that game. In the backfield, it’s senior Zavion Hamilton and junior Daniel Moyer, and sophomore wideout Tazhae Woods adds to the passing game.
“We’re preparing for their impact guys,” Till commented. “Their offensive line is big, and their quarterback (Hollingsworth) got injured the last time we played. But he’s taken the most carries in the last three games for Reagan, so it’s clear the offense revolves around him. Nos. 1 and 2 (Moyer and Woods) are fast as lightning, and were on the state championship 4×200 team.”
The last bit of preparation for Richmond, according to Till, doesn’t fall on his player or coaches. Instead, it falls on the fans. And he’s hoping to see Raider Stadium filled with green and gold clad spectators come kickoff time.
“We’ve got to have a big crowd,” Till concluded. “Coach McGee said he’s excited for his team to play in this type of atmosphere. We have a reputation for having a big crowd and want to keep that. Richmond and our fans have earned that reputation and I want a big turnout for a big Thanksgiving game.”
The Raiders’ quest to win their eighth state title in program history will begin Friday, Nov. 23, at 7:30 p.m. Reserved seat and pre-sale tickets can be bought at Family Pharmacy, Mabry’s Pharmacy and Medical Center Pharmacy.
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