ROCKINGHAM — The most meaningful game of the season for the Richmond Senior High School football team will take place on Friday night.
While rivalry games with Pinecrest and Scotland high schools are important, should the Raiders hope to keep their playoff potential alive, Week 6’s road game at Hoke County High School could be the determining factor.
On the heels of a tough one-possession loss to 4A opponent Pinecrest last week, the Raiders and head coach Bryan Till are zeroed in on the Bucks.
As the only other 4A program left to face in the Sandhills Athletic Conference, Hoke County stands in the way of Richmond trying to make it back to the postseason. A win could help the Raiders’ chances, while a loss would surely eliminate them from the playoffs.
“The only way to bounce back is to keep working and play better this week,” Till said. “This is a huge game, so the importance of it helps to refocus us after losing late to a rival.”
When asked what needs to happen to secure a win and keep a potential 4A playoff spot alive, Till said the answer is simple — “less mistakes.”
“We turned the ball over more times than we got turnovers last week, even with some really bright spots,” Till recalled. “That is just one example.
“If we can win field position with special teams and get a shorter field to score and limit mistakes that help our opponent, it should put us in a position to win. Of course we know our opponent is thinking the same thing.”
Richmond has won 11 consecutive games against the Bucks (2-4, 0-2 SAC), which are coached by George Small. During that stretch, the Raiders have outscored Hoke County by an average score of 47.3-11.6 per contest.
Nine of those 11 meetings have resulted in 40 or more points for Richmond, with five outcomes resulting in 50 or more points. Hoke County has been shutout twice in that span and hasn’t scored more than 21 points in the past nine years.
Hoke County enters this week on a three-game losing streak after winning two of its first three games. In losses to Scotland and Lee County to begin SAC play, the Bucks have averaged just 9.5 points per game.
In their approach this week, the Raiders are getting ready to face a dual-threat quarterback in Brandon Saunders who Till said has a strong grip on the Bucks’ offense.
“(Saunders) is both a run and passing threat so it makes sense that they are balanced since the offense runs through him,” Till said. “He is a multi-year starter so he can do a lot of things.
“We have to be able to contain him in the run game and get to him in the pass rush without allowing him to escape the pocket.”
Saunders has accounted for 10 total touchdowns (seven passing, three rushing). He’s 58-of-96 passing for 674 yards and has added 139 rushing yards on 64 carries.
Hoke County also uses a trio of running backs to help keep the offense moving forward — seniors Q’monte Allen (team-leading 45.3 yards per game), Jairo Ortiz and junior Nasir Wells.
Favorable targets in the passing game include seniors Joey Castaneda, Tre’jan Williams and X’Zavier Stephens-McIntosh, all of whom have two receiving touchdowns. Willam averages 39.0 receiving yards per game, followed by Seriyon Wilson (26.3) and Stephens-McIntosh (21.2).
“Their offensive sets are very similar to ours and Pinecrest’s sets,” Till shared. “They are in mostly 2×2 and 3×1 sets with both four wide receivers and three wide receivers and a halfback.
“(Saunders) will share the backfield with multiple running backs, but will try to spread the ball around to (Stephens-McIntosh), (Wilson), (Williams), No. 85 (Tycen Vick), and (Castaneda) the halfback.”
On defense, Hoke County is allowing 23.2 points per game compared to Richmond’s defense’s 36.2 points per game.
Senior linebackers Zion Smith and Jamarie Brown, along with junior defensive back Darrien Frazier, lead the Bucks with 29 total tackles apiece. Senior defensive tackles Dexter Foster and Randolph Sanders both have 4.0 tackles for loss.
Foster’s 2.5 quarterback sacks are a team-high, followed by 2.0 each by junior tackle Tafari Parker and junior linebacker Franajai Ransom.
“The defense is mainly a four-man front with a few of the offensive linemen also playing some defensive line,” Till said. “(Foster) is a really good player at defensive end for them and the DBs have done well running both man and zone coverages.
“They really did a good job against Lee County last week, only allowing two TDs to an offense that had been scoring a lot.”
The battle between the Raiders (1-5, 1-1 SAC) and the Bucks will start at 7:30 p.m. at Raz Autry Stadium in Raeford.