ROCKINGHAM — Every snap and repetition in practice this week has made the Richmond Raider football team that much better, which is what the program is focused on going into the third week of the season.
Following a pair of tough non-conference losses to begin the new slate, the Raiders will again host a formidable 4A East opponent on Friday.
Playing their third ranked team in as many weeks, the Raiders are set to continue their series with No. 5 Cardinal Gibbons High School.
The upcoming matchup will be the fifth meeting between the two schools since 2019, with the Crusaders (1-1) taking the victory in the last three. In 2022, Richmond fell 31-0.
Despite the tough task ahead for Richmond (0-2), head coach Bryan Till noted the players and coaches haven’t let the rough start to the season hinder morale.
“We have a bunch of great kids and hardworking coaches,” Till shared. “They all just continue to work hard at winning and encouraging each other. We believe in each other and this team and know we can play better than we are, so we just keep working at it.”
Through the first two games, the Raiders have been outscored 91-26. Playing ranked teams Seventy-First and Butler high schools has made it tough sledding, but Till said “self-inflicted injuries” and making mistakes are also part of those losses.
His expectations moving into week three are simple, especially with the notion that any team can win on any given Friday night.
“We expect to play better and continue to find ways to win moving forward,” Till explained. “We have to cut out the mistakes we are making that give other teams opportunities.
“If (Cardinal Gibbons) earns it, then so be it. But we cannot continue to give gifts on Friday night. We will also need to force some mistakes ourselves.”
Through the first two games, Richmond has only forced two positive turnovers — a fumble recovery against Seventy-First and an interception against Butler.
The team’s rush defense has also allowed a total of nine rushing scores and 512 rushing yards in two games.
Looking to switch the momentum, the Raiders will face a very pass-heavy Crusaders offense. In week two, Cardinal Gibbons traveled to nationally-ranked Cardinal Gibbons (Florida) and lost by just a touchdown.
Under center for the Crusaders is senior quarterback Whitt Newbauer, who is 59-for-84 passing this season with 630 yards and six touchdowns. The key to the passing game, Till said, is how efficiently Newbauer gets the ball in play.
“The passing game is mostly a quick game with the ball getting out of the QB’s hands fast,” Till said. “He makes good decisions and has a great arm. He is probably the best QB we will face in the regular season.
“We have to force tough throws and make plays on the ball, and we need to get them into third-and-longs where he has to hold the ball a little longer. Then we have to win one-on-one in the pass rush to get some pressure.”
Richmond faced a very versatile offense against Butler last week, but Cardinal Gibbons’ offense kicks it up another notch.
“They run every spread formation known to mankind,” Till said. “Trips, ace, empty, quads, trips over, quads over and so on. They also get into some wildcat packages and are very, very multiple.
“The backup QB (Aiden Smalls) is a dynamic slot wide receiver and the outside wide receivers are 6-3 plus and big. The tailback (Nic Leonard) can catch and run. Anyone can touch the ball on any play and (Newbauer) can run, as well as throw it.”
Smalls has averaged 132.5 receiving yards per game this season on 24 catches, almost half of Newbauer’s completions. Chet Yardley has hauled in a team-high three touchdowns on 10 receptions and 62.5 yards per game.
Eight different Crusaders have caught a pass this year, four of whom have found the end zone.
Newbauer and Leonard lead the team, respectively, in rushing yards per game. Smalls has scored both of the Crusaders’ rushing scores this year.
On the other side of the ball, the Raiders will contend with a tough Cardinal Gibbons defense that also has a lot of depth.
“The defense is a four-man front that will play a large variety of coverages and schemes,” Till said. “They will be 4-3, 4-2-5, and 4-4 with man, quarters and cover three concepts. They have a lot of really tough high school players who run to the football and play every down.”
Sponsored by several organizations at Richmond, open donations will be collected and orange wristbands that read “courage, hope, we stand together” will be sold. All of the proceeds will go to Hadinger and his family.
Kickoff between No. 5 Cardinal Gibbons and Richmond is set for 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the gate or on GoFan.co.