Thursday, 17 October 2019 15:52

Preview: No. 1 Raiders ready for 'extremely well improved' No. 20 Hoke County

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The No. 1 Raiders will look for win No. 8 of the season Friday on the road at No. 20 Hoke County. The No. 1 Raiders will look for win No. 8 of the season Friday on the road at No. 20 Hoke County. Deon Cranford — The Richmond Observer.

ROCKINGHAM — High school football teams change from year to year, some improving a win or two, while others take a step back. But Richmond Senior High School’s eighth opponent of the season is in the middle of a complete program reboot that has paid dividends for Hoke County High School.

Announced as the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s newest No. 1 ranked team according to its adjusted Maxpreps rankings, the Raiders will travel to No. 20 Hoke County on Friday in what fans should expect to be another Sandhills Athletic Conference thriller. 

It’s the third-straight game the Raiders will play a top 20 team, having outscored No. 12 Jack Britt and No. 13 Pinecrest high schools 95-28 the last two weeks.

Coming off its highest-scoring contest of the season, which saw the Raiders put up 59 points against Jack Britt, Richmond (7-0, 3-0 SAC) will look to remain unbeaten against a much improved Bucks team. 

Entering the season, Hoke County (5-2, 2-1 SAC) had recorded a 3-41 overall record dating back to the start of the 2015 season. That span saw two winless seasons (0-11 in 2015 and 2017), but in stepped Hoke County alumni George Small a season ago, and the tide started to change in Raeford.

Small won just one game in his inaugural season in 2018, but now the Bucks are clicking on all cylinders and have earned more wins than the last four seasons combined. During the past four years, the Raiders have outscored Hoke County 195-14, including two shutouts and putting 51 or more points up in three of those games.

While the recent history works in the Raiders’ favor, third-year head coach Bryan Till said his team isn’t taking Small or the Bucks lightly.

“They are an extremely well improved team,” Till commented in his office earlier this week. “Coach Small has done a great job of putting a lot of coaches on his staff who are putting together system that’s succeeding. On film, it’s clear when we watch that their players are able to make adjustments, and that shows (Hoke County) is doing things well from a coaching standpoint.”

Also on the sidelines for the Bucks are two former Raiders in John Rich (offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach) and Wendell Wells (offensive analyst and scout).

The Bucks finished the 2018 season tied for last place in the SAC standings, but now sit tied for second with Pinecrest. A season ago, Hoke County was scoring an average of 14.5 points per game and allowing 32 points per game on defense through 11 games. This season, the Bucks have flipped the script, scoring 22.2 points on offense while allowing just 16.2 points defensively.

The improvement adds to an already strong SAC grouping of eight teams, and Till said the Bucks’ efforts to win games and hang with Scotland High School for the majority of last week’s contest gives the Raiders the understanding that Hoke County shouldn’t be taken any easier than other teams.

“Their improvement helps our kids focus,” Till explained. “Of course we have a certain way we prepare for games regardless of the opponent or record, we don’t take anyone lightly. But now we can tell our kids that (the Bucks) are better, and the tape shows that.

“That should give us more focus in practice,” he added. “It’s very clear to us that they’re a much better, more sound team this season.”

Hoke County’s offense runs through senior tailback Keonte’ Shaw, whose 807 rushing yards on 134 attempts are both SAC bests through seven games. He also leads the conference in rushing yards per game with an average of 115.3 yards per night, which is 13.1 yards per game better than second-place runner Kore Prentice-Coles (Seventy-First High School). Shaw leads the Bucks with seven rushing scores.

Senior quarterback Jada McGill can’t be discounted either, as he’s thrown for nine touchdowns and 713 total yards this season. Richmond’s secondary will have to be aware of senior wide receivers Madison Williams (162 yards, three TDs) and Xavier Simmons (156 yards, two TDs), as they’re top targets for McGill.

“(Shaw) has done a really good job and is one of the best backs in the conference,” Till said. “Hoke is really big on their offensive line which helps the running game. Their offense runs through (Shaw), so if he’s having a good night, they are having a good night.”

The Raider defensive line and linebackers have spent the week preparing for an offensive line that features four players at least six feet tall, two of whom (Vinny Latham and Jermarion Wages) are 6-6.

Till added that Hoke County runs a “pretty balanced spread offense” with a lot of two-by-two and three-by-one sets, and will often throw in some tight end sets. McGill can also use his feet to move the ball (107 rushing yards, two scores).

On the other sidel, Hoke County is “defensively very sound, and has some players doing things right,” which Till noted makes them a much tougher opponent.

“No. 55 (Keyonte Bronson, defensive end) is a straight stud,” Till said. “No. 32 (Kareem Butler, linebacker) is also a good player who runs to the ball really well. Their defense can run and hit you, and they use a 3-4 defense that’s similar to Pinecrest.

“It’s a team defensive effort, and the defensive line plays tough, spilling and creating chances for everyone else to run to the ball.”

Richmond comes prepared with its own offensive and defensive weapons, including junior quarterback Caleb Hood and senior tailback Jaheim Covington. The duo combined for six of Richmond’s seven rushing scores against Jack Britt, with Covington tying a career high with four in one game.

The Raiders have relied heavily on the rushing attack since it started SAC play three weeks ago, scoring 15 running touchdowns to just one passing score. A big part of that success has been the Raider offensive line, seeing senior Brian Bowden and junior Jaleel Davis spearhead the protection for the Raider running backs.

On defense, Richmond will see the return of senior linebacker Joerail White, who missed a game due to a lower leg injury. But the Raiders will be without one of their top tacklers in senior linebacker Dre Bethea, who had an emergency appendectomy earlier this week.

Till said the team will miss Bethea’s presence, but added sophomore linebacker Jaleak Gates, along with regulars CJ Tillman and Gavin Russell, will be able to “shift around” to different spots. Gates, who is 6-2, is one of the fastest players on the team and recorded his first career sack against Jack Britt.

Kickoff between the Raiders and Bucks is set for 7:30 p.m. on Friday in Raeford.

Last modified on Thursday, 17 October 2019 16:04

Kyle Pillar

Three-time award-winning sports editor. Indiana University of Pennsylvania communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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