Tuesday, 23 July 2019 15:54

Different look to Richmond’s non-conference football schedule

Written by
Rate this item
(0 votes)
The Raiders have four non-conference games on the 2019 schedule: rematches with Butler and Anson and first-time meetings with Clayton and Cardinal Gibbons. The Raiders have four non-conference games on the 2019 schedule: rematches with Butler and Anson and first-time meetings with Clayton and Cardinal Gibbons. Deon Cranford

ROCKINGHAM — With the high school football season kicking off less than a month from now, many in Raider Nation are getting excited, and for good reason. 

Richmond finished the season 11-2 in 2018, losing only to Myers Park (13-2) and eventual state 4AA champion Wake Forest (14-0). With several key players returning and social media being flooded with all of the off-season activities, Raider fans have high expectations of the 2019 squad.

The Raiders ended the program’s longest conference title drought (seven years) last season when they went 7-0 in the Sandhills Athletic Conference. By falling in round three of the state 4AA playoffs to Myers Park, they started a new drought. For the first time in school history, Richmond has now gone 10 straight years without a state title. That’s a drought they hope will end as quickly as it started.

To get playoff ready, Richmond has 11 schools on its regular season schedule to challenge. The Sandhills Athletic Conference always provides a speedbump or two, but there have been a few changes to the non-conference schedule since last year.  

Aug. 23 – Clayton at Richmond

The Clayton Comets and the Richmond Raiders have never met. In fact, Richmond has never played a game against a Johnston County School in its program’s history. In 2018, the Comets finished the season 9-3 and in second place in the Greater Neuse 3A Conference. Their losses came to city rival Cleveland, a nail-biter to Garner in their season opener, and a nine-point defeat to Hillside (Durham) in the first round of the playoffs.

Clayton won the 2A state title back in 1989, the same season that Richmond defeated A.C. Reynolds in the 4A title game following a huge snow storm. In 2017, they were poised to earn the school’s second title after stringing together 13 consecutive wins. Unfortunately for the Comets, Eastern Guilford used a fumble recovery in the end zone and a 90-yard kickoff return in the second half to defeat Clayton 38-31 in the third round of the 3AA playoffs.

This year, the off-season has not been kind to the Comets. For most of the summer, the program has been riddled with allegations of grade tampering to help a player meet academic eligibility requirements. Coach Hunter Jenks and the Comets look to shake all of that off as they kick off their 2019 season at Raider Stadium.

Aug. 30 – Richmond at Anson

Despite Richmond holding a heavy advantage in the overall series record (39-2), the Pee Dee border battle between the Raiders and the Bearcats has been a fan favorite for years. The 2017 season marked the first time in 32 consecutive years that the two schools did not meet, but the series will continue in August after a two-year hiatus.

In their last meeting, Raider QB Leon Zeigler passed for three touchdowns and hit six receivers in a 38-7 Richmond victory at Raider Stadium in 2016. Connecting with six receivers in a single game was an unusual feat then for the program, but Zeigler managed to do it a few times, and it has become a recurring statistic with the Caleb Hood-led offense of the past two years.  

Unfortunately, a dwindling economy in Anson County has had a huge impact on the Bearcats’ success. Many families have left the county in search for jobs, resulting in fewer and fewer students in the schools. Anson was able to string together six consecutive winning seasons in football from 2004-2009 with the Bearcats advancing all the way to the regional final in 2009. Since that 2009 run, Anson High School’s average daily membership has plummeted by nearly 400 students, dropping the county’s lone high school all the way down to the 2A classification. In that same 9-year time span, Anson’s football program has not had a single winning season and has only won 30 games total (an average of just more than 3 wins per year).

This season, Ralph Jackson’s Bearcats are expected to be much improved which has brought a little excitement to Wadesboro. Also, Bearcat Stadium has had some upgrades since Richmond’s last visit. The school had a new PA system installed a few years ago and has recently added a newly refurbished field. All of that should add all a little hype to the Richmond/Anson reunion.

Sept. 6 – Butler at Richmond

Richmond has some work to do if they want to put themselves on the right side of the win-loss record with Butler. Currently, the Bulldogs hold a 7-4 series lead over the Raiders and have outscored Richmond 356-306.

Oddly enough, Richmond has struggled more with the Bulldogs on their own field, especially in the first half. In their last three meetings at Raider Stadium, Richmond fell behind early and was unable to recover. In 2013, the Raiders took an early 7-0 lead, but lost to the Bulldogs 49-32 after giving up five touchdowns in the second quarter. In 2015, Butler took a 32-0 lead into intermission and called off the dogs in the second half to win 32-14. In 2017, Richmond made a valiant effort in the second half, but could not make up for Butler’s 27 first-half points and lost 27-21.

Richmond’s last three visits to the Queen City were much more exciting. The Raiders defeated the Bulldogs 30-19 at Butler last season. In 2016, a bad snap on what would have been a game-winning field goal attempt led to a 42-41 Raider defeat. In 2014, Richmond beat Butler 55-54 in overtime at Providence High School after recovering from a 15-point deficit in the final minute-and-a-half of regulation.

Since it doesn’t look like the Bulldogs are fading away anytime soon, the Raiders will have to play 48 solid minutes if they want to beat Butler in back-to-back games for the first time since 2003.

Sept. 13 – Richmond at Cardinal Gibbons

Richmond and Cardinal Gibbons will meet for the first time ever this season. Cardinal Gibbons will be Richmond’s 86th all-time opponent and the program’s 9th all-time opponent from Wake County.

Since Steven Wright took over coaching duties in 2011, Cardinal Gibbons has won nine or more games in six out of the last eight seasons. They have also won four conference titles in that time. In 2018, the Crusaders’ (10-2) season came to an end in the 4A playoffs when they lost a 7-6 heartbreaker to Scotland.

With some very good athletes returning this year, the Crusaders have already worked their way up several of the regional and media preseason polls. Over the last three seasons, Cardinal Gibbons has averaged right at 40 points per game, but many have attributed its strength of schedule as a factor of their success.  

The Crusaders have a history of following up stellar regular-season records with short post-season visits, often a sign of weak regular season schedules. They have only won two playoff games in the past five seasons — both of those victories came in 2016. In 2017, they entered the playoffs undefeated at 11-0 only to fall to Heritage 34-6 after a first-round bye.

Whether you agree or disagree about the claims that Cardinal Gibbons’ strength of schedule has been weak, the Crusaders will put the argument to rest this season. Not only do they have a couple of good opponents in the CAP-7 conference, but Cardinal Gibbons has kept a very good Cleveland program on its schedule as well as adding Richmond, a Heritage program that has been very tough the past few seasons, and the defending 4AA state champion Wake Forest Cougars. Any team willing to weather that storm should be taken seriously.

For more information on Richmond’s 2019 opponents, check the Richmond Observer each week during the season for a preview of the upcoming game.