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Week 6 Preview: Raiders sticking to ‘our process’ ahead of showdown with Pinecrest

Junior running back Jaleel Green carries the ball during a drill at Monday's practice. (Kyle Pillar, sports editor)

ROCKINGHAM — Rivalry week is normally reserved for the final game of the regular season, but the tide may be changing for the Richmond Raider football program, especially in terms of the state playoffs and conference bragging rights.

While the five-decade long rivalry with Scotland remains intact, and in fact will be played during the regular-season finale, the Raiders have seen another program rise to similar stature the last few years in Pinecrest High School.

Week 6 of the high school football season brings a crucial road test for the Raiders, which will face the first of its two 4A conference opponents on Friday.

Since the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s conference realignment in 2020, which landed Richmond in a 3A/4A split conference, all of Richmond’s athletic programs have to contend with just Pinecrest and Hoke County to try and earn a postseason bid.

That, along with a growing nature of competitiveness between the two football programs the last handful of years, has put an added emphasis on the term rivalry.

“It’s definitely a rivalry based on proximity and the fact that both programs are consistently competitive,” head coach Bryan Till said. “When you add to that the fact that they have some former Raiders on staff, it just adds fuel to the fire.”

Historically, the series has leaned heavily in Richmond’s favor, with the Raiders holding a 41-3 all-time record against the Patriots. Having won the last eight meetings, Richmond has won 27 of the 30 games dating back to 1992.

However, in the past two seasons, the Patriots have stayed close to the Raiders, losing the spring and fall 2021 games by 7 points each. 

A victory this season, which has seen the Raiders struggle early on and rebound with consecutive wins, could be the boost the team needs heading deeper into Sandhills Athletic Conference play.

“It can’t be overstated,” Till said of the imperativeness of a win. “(Playoff) seeding is in large part based on the 4A games, so winning this week literally takes care of 50 percent of that.

“Our process is our process, and that can’t and won’t change,” he added of Richmond’s preparation. “However, the added weight of the game adds a little more focus to meetings and excitement in the locker room.”

On the heels of a 28-point win over Southern Lee High School to open SAC play last week, the Raiders are viewing the Patriots (2-2, 0-0 SAC) as just another box they’d like to check off.

Pinecrest is under the direction of first-year head coach Nick Eddins, who was a former assistant coach at Richmond from 2002-2011. 

Also on the coaching staff for the Patriots are James Johnson and Milton Swinnie, two long-time assistant coaches for the Raiders. Before leaving for Moore County, Johnson served as Richmond’s defensive coordinator the last two years.

Acknowledging the unprecedented familiarity, Till said he and his coaching staff have made the team aware of the situation, but the outcome to Friday’s game comes down to Xs and Os.

“I think the big thing is trying to be aware of what they know about us and how they could use that to prepare their kids,” Till explained. “We have also tried to be aware of what we know about them and how it might help us prepare our kids.  

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“However, at the end of the day, the game will come down to blocking and tackling well. The majority of our energy needs to be spent doing that really well. We can’t get caught spinning our wheels on what we think they think about what we think.”

Chris Campolieta (DC), Patrick Hope and Kemp McSween (Co-OCs) instruct players during practice earlier this week. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer)

The Patriots sandwiched a pair of wins in Weeks 2 and 3 between losses to Rolesville and Grimsley before having a bye week last Friday. 

What Till said is “a good football team” is led by a spread run-pass option offense that is averaging 27.8 points per game.

Junior quarterback Mason Konen has completed 42-of-76 pass attempts this season for 500 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. Balancing the passing game is a two-man rushing attack in seniors Nahjiir Seagraves and Brandyn Hackett.

Seagraves (74 carries, 636 yards) has carried most of the weight through the first four games, collecting seven rushing scores. He’s averaging 159.0 yards per game, and has two games over the 200-yard mark.

Hackett (38 rushes, 280 yards) has scored twice and averages 70 yards per contest. Junior Jaylin Morgan adds depth to the backfield in short-yardage situations, having found the end zone three times. 

Senior wide receiver Hunter Neifert has been Konen’s favorite target, catching 15 passes for 197 yards and two scores.

“No. 32 (Seagraves) is a very good tailback and No. 10 (Hackett) is a very good backup,” Till said. “No. 5 (Neifert) is a very good wide receiver and they have really solid offensive line play every down.  

“The QB runs the offense well, making good decisions on the RPOs and giving his wide receivers opportunities.”

On the other side of the ball, the Patriots line up in a 3-4 based defense. Till said the Patriots run to the ball well and are physical, “which we would expect from Johnson and Swinnie.”

Allowing 28.5 points per game, Pinecrest relies on a stout defensive line and fast linebackers to slow opposing offenses. 

Junior linebacker Jadin Baptist leads the team with 33 total tackles, including 11 tackles-for-loss and 5 sacks, both team-highs. 

Morgan also plays linebacker and is tied with fellow linebacker Emilio Najm for second on the team with 15 tackles. Najm has recorded 3.5 TFL and inside linebacker Keegan Cole Bryan has also wrapped up 3 takedowns for a loss.

“The defensive line is well-coached and No. 6 (Yesaya Moler), in particular, is very hard to block,” Till noted.  “No. 2 (Najm), No. 4 (Morgan),  No. 18 (Baptist) and No. 44 (Bryan) move around and stunt from multiple places.

“They mix coverages in the secondary with No. 23 (Wade Harris) being long and rangy at corner. He can really have an effect on the passing game.”  

The final of four straight road games for the Raiders, kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on Friday in Southern Pines. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.

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Kyle Pillar is a nine-time North Carolina Press Association award-winning sports editor with The Richmond Observer. Follow the sports department on Twitter @ROSports_ for the best in-depth coverage of Richmond County sports.