ROCKINGHAM — The final countdown is on to the start of the Richmond Senior High School football season, as a formidable opponent awaits the Raiders on Friday.
Richmond will open the 2023 campaign at home against non-conference Seventy-First High School, a program that finished as the NCHSAA 3A East runner-up a season ago.
The buzz preceding the first game of the season has amped up this week at practice for Richmond and seventh-year head coach Bryan Till.
The team knows the task at hand, as the Falcons have been ranked as the No. 1 3A team in Carolina Preps’ preseason power rankings. In HighSchoolOT’s rankings, Seventy-First is the No. 2 team on the “910 Area Code” list.
While the outcome of Friday’s game is to be determined, one major question for Richmond has been answered.
The Raiders’ starting quarterback Week 1 will be sophomore Domonic Tillman. He and fellow sophomore Evan Hodges have been competing for the QB1 spot since spring practice.
A lot went into determining who would get the nod against the Falcons, as Till and the coaching staff used the past week of practice and two scrimmages last week to name the starter.
“Domonic will be the starting QB,” Till confirmed. “However, we completely trust that both of these guys can run the offense.”
Tillman, who is 6-1 and 165 pounds, will captain the triple option offense against the Falcons. Last season, he was a wide receiver on the junior varsity team and has showed his elusiveness and passing capabilities during the preseason.
Seventy-First is a former conference opponent of Richmond, having last played one another in Nov. 2019. While it’s been four years, Till said the familiarity between the programs is beneficial, but the outcome isn’t hinged on that alone.
“I think we are maybe a little more aware of each other’s tendencies, but overall it doesn’t really factor into our preparation,” he said. “We have a belief in doing things a certain way and that is what we try to do regardless.”
Last season, the Falcons went 14-1 overall and collected an 7-0 record against United 8 Conference opponents. A 14-game winning streak came to an end when Seventy-First lost by a point to Northern Nash High School in the 3A East regional championship.
Not returning to the Falcons this season is running back Anthony Quinn Jr., who transferred out of state and reclassified in June. In 2022, Quinn Jr. was the 3A state leader in total rushing yards (2,450) and third in rushing scores (29).
Although the Falcons will be without Quinn Jr., there is still a lot of returning talent the Raiders are preparing for. A run-first type of offense, Till said the defense is looking to shut down two playmakers — juniors Donovan Frederick (running back, linebacker) and Deandre Nance (quarterback).
“(Frederick) is a middle linebacker who was also the top running back in the scrimmages,” Till said, referring to film. “He is a big and very physical runner.
“However, (Nance) is also a good runner and knows their passing game inside and out. They have a lot of returning guys on both sides of the ball.”
Relying on making plays out of the backfield, Seventy-First ran the ball 583 times in 2022. The Falcons recorded 5,154 rushing yards (8.8 yards per carry) and averaged 343.6 rushing yards per game. As a unit, Seventy-First scored 59 rushing touchdowns.
Nance had 759 rushing yards and 11 TDs from the quarterback position and Frederick scored once and added 153 rushing yards.
Seventy-First averaged 38.8 points per game last fall, while allowing just 9.4 points against.
“They run a 3-4 defense with mostly cover three coverage,” Till explained of their defense. ”Their front seven is very good and led by their inside linebackers.”
One of the good things that came from Richmond’s scrimmage against Pine Forest High School last Friday was a sense of familiarity between the offenses of Pine Forest and the one the Raiders will see against the Falcons.
“Pine Forest ran some of the same offensive plays as Seventy-First and they had a mobile QB,” Till shared. “So seeing those in the game should help prepare us for this week some. It also allowed us to further evaluate our QBs and offense’s ability to adapt in game.”
Kickoff between the Raiders and the Falcons is slated for 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online at GoFan.co or at the gate ($8).
“Our players thrive off the energy in Raider Stadium,” Till closed. “We were just voted as the best stadium (in the state) and I think that is due to the overall environment.
“We look forward to the community continuing to take pride in showing this team its support.”
The Richmond Observer will continue its award-winning coverage of the varsity and junior varsity football teams this fall.