Home Local Sports Week 8 Preview: Raiders look to continue late-season surge at Union Pines

Week 8 Preview: Raiders look to continue late-season surge at Union Pines

QB Emoni McBride attempts a pass with LB Joe Parsons applying pressure during Wednesday's practice. (Kyle Pillar, sports editor)

ROCKINGHAM — In recent weeks, the tide has turned in favor of the Richmond Senior High School football team, which now stares down its final third of the regular season.

After losing its first three games, Richmond and head coach Bryan Till have won three of their last four contests.

Following last week’s 19-point homecoming victory over Hoke County High School, the Raiders have reestablished themselves in the NCHSAA 4A playoff discussion. 

While that conversation may drive the hopeful overall outcome, the Raiders are sticking to their mantra of “one game at a time” as they prepare for Union Pines High School.

Currently in third place in the Sandhills Athletic Conference standings, the Raiders will make a road trip to the sixth-place Vikings on Friday. It will be the first of two consecutive road games for Richmond before closing the season at home against Scotland later this month.

The wear and tear of the 10-game regular season has taken its usual toll on the Raiders, but Till said the team’s morale is in the right place.

“We have gotten a couple of guys back this week who were out last week,” Till explained. “The guys are looking forward to finishing this regular season strong with continued hopes for the playoffs afterwards.”

The obvious objective for the Raiders is to win out their final three games, which would be against the Vikings, first-place Lee County and rival Scotland.

“Winning out only happens if we win each week and we have several tests ahead,” Till said. “Winning out would give us at least a No. 2 seed in the conference with a chance at still being the No. 1 seed based on what everyone else does.  

“However, that doesn’t happen if we don’t focus on the task at hand and eliminate distractions of ‘what ifs’.”

Junior WR Jada Zimmerman hauls in a catch during Wednesday’s practice. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer)

Following the team’s third-straight loss to start the season on Sept. 2, Till said it was he and his coaching staff’s responsibility to hit the reset button and better prepare the team. Since then, Richmond has outscored its opponents 133-80 and collected a 2-1 record in SAC play.

Working to get better each week, Till said there have been improvements all across the board.

“I think we have gotten better in every aspect of our team in some way or the other.  The passing game in particular has picked up and made our offense more balanced,” Till shared. 

“I think the knowledge of some of our younger guys has picked up and allowed them to play more, as well which has helped our depth.”

When the Raiders make the trip to Cameron on Friday, they’ll face a Vikings team coached by Jason Trousdale that is 2-4 overall and winless through two SAC games this fall.

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Averaging 17.8 points per game, the Vikings are led on offense by senior quarterback Ben Finkelstein. This season, he’s completed 19-of-38 passing for 309 yards, 5 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.

Out of the backfield, the Richmond defense will contend with leading rusher in junior Ethan Biggs (27 carries, 225 yards, 1 touchdown). Finkelstein has also proven to be a dual threat, collecting a team-high 5 rushing scores on 31 carries for 188 yards.

Junior tailback Holden Thomas is an additional threat, racking up 132 yards on the ground on 35 touches.

Senior wide receiver Brendan Ortega is Finkelstein’s go-to target, hauling in a team-high 150 receiving yards on 8 catches and two scores. Biggs is also a part of the passing game, adding 123 yards on 6 grabs.

“Union Pines gets into two tight-end bone formations and also into traditional spread formations on offense,” Till explained. “So knowing personnel is important to matching the scheme.  

“They have lots of guys who touch the football with No. 14 (Biggs) and No. 4 (Caleb Milton) creating most of their explosive plays. (Finkelstein) at QB is also a running threat and they use him regularly to do that.”

Defensive coordinator Chris Campolieta (center) meets with the defense. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer)

Defensively, the Vikings are giving up an average of 34.3 points per game, close to Richmond’s offense netting 28.0 PPG.

Senior linebackers Christopher Gilbert (41 tackles) and Brody Tranel (33 tackles) are the top two tacklers for the Vikings. Also quick to the ball are Damon Bremer, Austin Mooring, Harley Moyer, T.J. Robinson and Zachary McCormick, who all have over 20 tackles this season.

Bremer leads the defense with seven sacks, with Gilbert’s six quarterback takedowns right behind him. 

“On defense they have been in both a traditional 4-3 and a 3-3 stack defense,” Till said. “Most of the coverage has been a mixture of cover 4 and 3, with predominantly cover 4.  

“They run to the ball well from every position,” he closed. “Many of the guys who touch the ball on offense are also defensive skill players, including the QB who plays safety quite a bit.” 

Kickoff between the Raiders and Vikings is set for 7:30 p.m. on Friday. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.

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Kyle Pillar is a 16-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.