ROCKINGHAM — After a disappointing start to the season in terms of the team’s record, the Richmond Raiders hope to start a fresh chapter on Friday.
Going 0-4 for the first time in the school’s 52-year history, the Raiders now switch gears for a much more familiar slate of Sandhills Athletic Conference opponents.
While the Raiders didn’t win a game against a gauntlet of non-conference opponents, three of which were ranked, they did grow in several facets of the game head coach Bryan Till said.
A believer in tough competition breeds stronger players and programs, Till noted that the non-conference schedule was helpful in preparing Richmond to make a run at its fifth conference title in six seasons.
“Conference play is a fresh start and while your record does matter, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as these games,” Till said in reference to non-conference and SAC play.
“We have a chance to take what we have learned from playing four really good opponents and put that to the test in conference to continue to get better.”
Like the past two seasons, Richmond will open SAC action against Southern Lee High School, one of the four 3A schools in the split conference.
The Cavaliers, coached by Fred Blanks, have already won three times as many games this season as they did last year.
Southern Lee (3-1) has defeated Western Harnett, Seaforth and Fairmont high schools by an average of 33 points per game. On the flip side, those three schools are a combined 2-8 this season.
While Southern Lee has improved on paper, Till said that’s not a number he, nor the other coaches or players, looks at when getting ready for Friday night.
“The number of wins they have coming into the game is irrelevant to our prep,” Till shared. “We have broken them down based on schemes and have practiced against what we expect to see.
“However, it does make our guys more aware of their abilities.”
Refusing to give up has also been a mantra of the Raiders this season, who have understood the assignment of experiencing growing pains in key positions on both sides of the ball.
While Richmond’s offense has yielded seven touchdowns in four games and just 12.3 points per game, Till believes many of the offense’s intangibles have improved.
“I think we are getting more and more consistent offensive drives every week,” he said. “I also think our knowledge of the game and situations has improved greatly from facing so many different offenses and attack philosophies.
“I am hoping that our resolve to turn this thing around has also increased, because that opportunity is right in front of us,” Till continued.
“We are banged up in a lot of spots, but I have been very pleased with guys stepping into their new roles or starting roles to help the team. That attitude has been really encouraging.”
The Cavaliers’ offense runs an I formation under center scheme that will run from pro sets, twin sets and spread sets.
A run-first team, Southern Lee relies heavily on a pair of running backs — senior Tyrice Douglas and sophomore Johnnie Jones.
Fifteen of the Cavaliers’ 16 touchdowns this season have been scored on the ground, with nine of them courtesy of Douglas (78 carries, 655 yards, 163.8 yards per game).
Jones has added two rushing touchdowns and thrown one. Through four games, he’s netted 203 rushing yards on 28 touches. Four other players have one rushing touchdown.
Junior quarterback Robbie Sims has more rushing attempts (11) than passing attempts (10).
“We have faced numerous very good opponents and I think that playing against such strong players and play callers has helped prepare us very well for this week,” Till said of containing the Cavs’ rushing attack.
“Their offense used to be the norm and many of us coaches played in this system and against it. However, our players haven’t seen this much. It was good to scrimmage against Cape Fear a few weeks ago now because they did run it, so our guys have seen it.
“Everything runs through No. 8 (Douglas) in this set. Play-action pass is the norm for this set in addition to a hard-nosed run game.”
On defense, Till explained Southern Lee runs a 3-3-5 or a 3-5-3 scheme.
“They will run both man and cover-three from this set and blitz linebackers off the edge,” he closed. “Several guys on defense also play on offense, at least some — No. 3 (Mike Blanks), No. 5 (Nasire Jones), No. 9 (Kamauri Davis), No. 13 (Matthew Kidd) and No. 62 (Marcus Blanks).
Since joining the same conference at the start of the 2021 season, Richmond has gone 2-0 against the Cavs. The Raiders have outscored Southern Lee 96-10 and won by an average of 43 points.
This week is also Richmond’s homecoming game. The annual parade in downtown Rockingham is scheduled for 4 p.m. and the homecoming court will be introduced prior to the game at 6:30 p.m.
Kickoff will get underway at 7:30 p.m. from Raider Stadium. Tickets will be sold at the gate or can be purchased online at GoFan.co.
Sports editor’s note: Contributor Deon Cranford will have game day coverage this week.