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Week 9 Preview: Raiders look to slow down SAC’s leading rusher, win 3rd straight game

The Raiders, shown taking the field last week, face a tougher opponent in Lee County on Friday. (Kyle Pillar, sports editor)

ROCKINGHAM — A more formidable opponent and the Sandhills Athletic Conference’s top rusher await the Richmond Raider football team in Week 9.

On the heels of consecutive wins that got the team to the .500 mark, the Raiders will travel for the final time this regular season to Lee County High School on Friday.

With the hunt for November and playoff football shifted into a higher gear, Richmond and head coach Bryan Till are expected to make the postseason. 

But a major test that stands in their way in terms of trying to win the program’s fifth consecutive conference title includes B.J. Brown and the Yellow Jackets.

Lee County (6-1, 2-1), which sits in third place in the SAC standings behind second-place Richmond, is coming off its first loss of the season last week against frontrunner Pinecrest High School.

“We are in a fight for a playoff spot regardless of what happened with their game last week,” Till said of the Lee County and Pinecrest meeting. “We have to take care of our business to have any hope of continuing the positive change this season.”

Focusing on their own efforts have helped the Raiders get to 4-4 overall and 3-1 in SAC play after the team’s worst start in program history. Over the past five games, Richmond has won four of them.

Hoping the turnaround will continue, Till and the Raiders know that the Yellow Jackets aren’t the same team they beat by 27 points last year. Hoping that playing tough competition throughout the season will pay off, Till expects the Raiders to tap into that experience this week.

“They have won all but one game for a reason for sure,” Till commented. “They have a great running back but still are very balanced offensively so it keeps things open for him.  

“(Lee County) is very strong on defense as well. Our guys see that and have played against really good competition most of the season, so they know we have to be prepared.”

The Yellow Jackets are fueled by Brown, a junior tailback who leads the SAC in rushing yards (1,372), rushing yards per game (196) and rushing attempts (168). An explosive back, Brown has collected an SAC second-best 14 rushing scores.

The Raiders defense, which is allowing 128.8 rushing yards per game, knows the No. 1 objective against Lee County is to slow Brown down on the ground.

“(Brown) gets his yardage every week, averaging right at 200 yards per game,” Till said. “Everything they do runs through him and he opens up the RPO and play action, as well as their screen game. 

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“We have to play our gaps tight, which is tough with how wide their splits between their offensive linemen are, and not give him much room. We also have to run to the ball and gang tackle him. He doesn’t require much room to make a play and he keeps working to break it after first contact.”

Senior running back Dayreon Jennings bolsters the backfield with 8 rushing touchdowns this season on 23 rushes for 245 yards. Senior quarterback Mark Schlesinger balances the offense in the passing game, having thrown 730 yards on 57-of-89 passing and 6 touchdowns.

Favorite targets are wide receivers Kendal Morris (21 catches, 2 TDs), Isaiah Peoples (9 catches, 1 TD), Logan Walker (7 catches, 1 TD) and Jayden Hill (17 catches, 5 TDs).

“They have a QB who can run and throw and utilize the RPO game very well,” Till said. “They have four wide receivers who he will spread the ball around to and keep you spread out over the whole field.  

“They are very balanced and in four wide receiver sets almost all of the time. They do bring in (Jennings) as an additional running back for yardage and as a change up.”

Defensively, the Yellow Jackets are allowing just 16.9 points per game and have recorded two shutouts. Last week, Lee County’s 40 points surrendered to Pinecrest were a season-high.

Jennings, who also plays defense, is the team’s leading tackler with 71 total tackles and averages 10.1 tackles per contest. His 7 tackles-for-loss are tied with teammate Ayden Rhoney for the most on the roster.

Juniors Ayomide Adesanya and Isaiah McKendall are second and third in tackles, with 52 and 50, respectively. Talalotu Phillips and Prince Lamison both have 2.0 sacks this season.

Anthony Battle leads the Yellow Jackets with 4 interceptions and Morris has intercepted 3 passes. As a team, Lee County has recovered 8 fumbles in seven games.

“Their defense is big, strong and fast at both defensive line and linebacker,” Till noted. “We have to find a way to sustain drives and keep the sticks moving and then score once we are in the red zone.  

“Also keeping their offense from getting going is big,” he closed. “Many of their opponents have gotten behind and become one-dimensional, which has helped their defense get better.”

Kickoff from Lee County is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. start. 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.