Thursday, 23 September 2021 22:05

PREVIEW: No. 4 Richmond 'ready' for new-look No. 6 Pinecrest in conference opener

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The Raiders take the field ahead of their Week 4 win over South View. The Raiders take the field ahead of their Week 4 win over South View. Kyle Pillar — Sports Editor.

ROCKINGHAM — When asked how the Richmond Raider football team has spent the last two weeks preparing for the start of Sandhills Athletic Conference play, head coach Bryan Till answered in two simple words: “We’re ready.”


After a two-week hiatus between games, the No. 4 Raiders will open their conference slate against No. 6 Pinecrest High School, the fifth top-10 ranked team they’ll play to start the season.

“The anticipation leading up to this game has been really good,” Till said. “Last week, we were able to rest, which was good. But now this week we’re glad to be back at it getting ready for Pinecrest.

“The weather has been hit or miss, and we had an abbreviated practice on Tuesday. The extra time off has been beneficial for us.”

With matching 3-1 records, the Raiders and Patriots will try and set the early tone in the SAC 4A standings. Richmond will also recognize its 22 senior players ahead of the game on Senior Night.

“It’s one of those things we want to make sure we get in as soon as possible,” Till said. “Any time guys have been in the program for as long as they have, and done as much as they can to help the team, you want the opportunity to honor them.

“To show our appreciation for our seniors is a big deal for us. The more times you get to celebrate the positives, especially after the last year and a half, the better it is. This is a great group of seniors.”

Friday’s meeting will be the 36th consecutive season the Raiders and Patriots will play against one another, extending Richmond’s longest active series, which is also matched with Hoke County High School.

Looking to improve its winning streak to eight straight games against Pinecrest, dating back to the 2014 season, the Raiders hold a 40-3 all-time record over the Patriots. Last season, the Raiders survived in overtime to win 42-35.

Till said there is “a good rivalry” between the two teams, noting “there is a lot of familiarity that breeds an edge to the game.” He also said that the only way to handle the extra pressure of a rivalry game is to “embrace the noise and go play with it.”

The Patriots are under the direction of first-year head coach Robert Curtin and have picked up two of their three wins against ranked opponents at the time they played earlier this season. 

Pinecrest has defeated Rolesville, Middle Creek (both ranked) and Anson, and lost to Grimsley, which is a top-three team in the West. 

According to Jonathan Bym of The Pilot, Pinecrest’s starting quarterback Brodie Karres is out the rest of the season with an injury.

Also having last week off with a planned bye, the Patriots bring two weeks of preparation for the Raiders in a game that will likely carry a playoff atmosphere with it.

“They've had two weeks to prepare, too, and we’re not sure what we’ll see out of them off the bye week,” Till said. “They have a new coach and a new offensive coordinator, and what we know about them is what we’ve seen on film. But things can change in two weeks.

“When (Chris) Metzger was the coach, Pinecrest was under center a lot, and this year they have been almost all shotgun. They can run wildcat packages, and a lot of the formations are similar, so we just need to be able to be prepared.”

Metzger, who left Pinecrest for Montgomery Central, was the head coach of the Patriots for the last 14 seasons.

Averaging 29.5 points per game, the Patriots are run-oriented with several key players moving the ball on the ground. Junior Nahjiir Seagraves leads the team with 54 carries and 243 yards, while senior Xavier Dowd isn’t far behind with 240 rushing yards on 43 touches.

Senior Samet Cobb has 12 rushes for 55 yards, and Till said that all three are viable threats in the passing game at slot receiver and out of the backfield. Pinecrest’s leading receivers are Seagraves (4 catches, 97 yards) and Hunter Neifert (10 catches, 83 yards).

Bym has reported that there are currently three quarterbacks in the mix for the Patriots — sophomore Mason Konen (7-for-19, 50 yards, 5 interceptions), senior Robert Hyder (5-of-15, 41 yards) and junior Luke Tew.

Of the offensive line, Till said they “get after you” and that Pinecrest’s offense has “pieces that are really deadly.”

The Patriots’ 3-4 defense will try to slow down a Richmond offense that is averaging 33.25 points per game and senior quarterback Kellan Hood, who leads the SAC in rushing yards (426 yards, 67 rushes).

“Their defense is really sound and solid, one of the few holdovers from Metzger’s staff,” Till said. “The defensive ends are as good as anyone we’ll see, and they play six guys on the line to keep them fresh.

“Their secondary is long, the linebackers are physical, and other than the first game against Rolesville, they haven’t given up a lot of points.”

At defensive end for the Patriots are seniors Will Brock and Jayden Scott, and Till pointed to Jaylin Morgan and Emilio Najm as two threats at inside linebacker, with Kesler Atkinson working the edge at outside linebacker.

Atkinson and Jaden Baptist have scored on defense, each returning one interception for a touchdown. Linebacker Jacob Renfrew has also scored on a fumble recovery. 

Senior free safety Noah Hartford and senior cornerback Traveon Short, a former Raider, are also players the Raiders are preparing for over the top.

Following the back-and-forth affair last season, Richmond will also try to take advantage of good field position. 

Pinecrest’s kicker, senior Braden Cole, has the ability to pin opposing offenses deep in their own zone. Cole is averaging 43.3 yards per punt and 53.8 yards per kickoff.

“They have a very good kicker, so field position and limiting his impact on the game are keys for us,” Till said. “We have to try and not let the ball roll or get in position to make fair catches. 

“If we can add some big returns and not lose turnovers, we should be able to make the most out of our scoring opportunities. And that will be easier with a shorter field.”

While every game of the 10-game regular season is important, opening SAC play with a win against one of the only two other 4A schools in the conference is imperative for the Raiders. 

With a win, Richmond would hold a significant advantage over Pinecrest in trying to earn first in the 4A standings to get an automatic bid to the playoffs. Wins in back-to-back weeks over Pinecrest and Hoke County would secure that top seed for the Raiders.

“Starting with a 4A game to begin conference play is a big deal, and getting a win would be a great start,” Till closed. “When it comes to the playoffs, if we were to win 4A games the next two weeks, it would be huge to get the separation we’d want to get that top playoff spot.”

Senior Night recognitions will begin at 6:45 p.m., followed by kickoff at 7:30 p.m. at Raider Stadium. Tickets can be bought using GoFan.co, or purchased at the gate starting at 5:30 p.m.

Last modified on Thursday, 23 September 2021 22:09
Kyle Pillar

Nine-time N.C. Press Association award-winning sports editor. Indiana University of Pennsylvania communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

Submit local sports scores to: kpillar@richmondobserver.com

Twitter: ROSports_