Thursday, 21 November 2019 12:37

PLAYOFF PREVIEW: No. 1 Raiders' chase for eight begins vs. No. 8 Hough

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Senior running back Jaheim Covington and junior quarterback Caleb Hood take reps during Wednesday's practice ahead of the Raiders' playoff run. Senior running back Jaheim Covington and junior quarterback Caleb Hood take reps during Wednesday's practice ahead of the Raiders' playoff run. Kyle Pillar — Sports Editor.

ROCKINGHAM — High school playoff football is officially back in Richmond County and the Raiders are ready to start their “chase for eight.”

Friday’s second-round West bracket playoff meeting between the No. 1 seeded Richmond Raiders and the No. 8 Hough High School Huskies will mark the first time the two programs have met in the regular or postseason.

But it’s not the first time the Raiders have been in their current position, coming off a first-round bye for the second consecutive season under head coach Bryan Till. The extra week between their season finale and their first playoff game afforded the Raiders the opportunity to “get healthy” and dial in on the Huskies.

Friday’s contest will be a “black out” for Raider fans, and the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce is also encouraging its business members to support the Raiders by window dressing their storefronts in green and gold on game day. 

Richmond has been hard at work in the 12 days since they last played, practicing in a mixture of weather and temperature conditions that could impact the outcome of games this time of year. The Raiders are also preparing for their biggest game to date.

A win would prove to be the Raiders’ 12th of the season, and would be the first time since the 2010 season of accomplishing that feat. Hough will serve as Richmond’s 87th all-time opponent, and 17th opponent from Mecklenburg County.

“This time of year is always tough because we know the season is going to end eventually,” Till commented. “We’re all working hard to make sure our season keeps going.

“There are a lot of seniors who are dealing with a lot of emotions and things people don’t see in preparation for these games,” he added, also noting the underclassmen’s efforts. “We want people to know and appreciate that.”

Making the trip to Raider Stadium, where Richmond (11-0) hasn’t lost since the third round of the 2018 playoffs, will be the Huskies (8-4) and head coach Matthew Jenkins. Out of the I-Meck Conference, Hough finished the regular season in second place behind No. 2 Mallard Creek High School and blanked No. 9 Olympic High School 28-0 in the first round.

Currently on a two-game winning streak, and winner in seven of their last eight games, the Huskies’ offense is averaging 28.5 points per game, and their defense is allowing 23 points per game. To counter that, Richmond is putting up 44.63 points per contest, while allowing just 10.18 points on defense, including three shutouts.

Leading the Huskies is junior running back Evan Pryor, who is one of just 20 running backs in 4A play to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark this season (according to Maxpreps). Pryor has 1,048 yards on 151 carries and averages 87.3 yards per game. He’s also used as a passing threat out of the backfield, having hauled in 30 passes for 464 yards.

During the game against Olympic, starting senior quarterback Darius Ocean left the game with an injury, but freshman Tad Hudson filled in nicely with a pair of passing scores.

“The tough thing to prepare for is their speed,” Till observed. “They have probably the fastest guy (Pryor) we’ve seen to this point in the season. He is so explosive out of the back.

“Scheme wise, their offense runs stuff we’ve seen already this year,” he added. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen the ball passed as much as they do. But we’re getting back in the routine of those different coverages and checks.”

Till said the Raider defense is preparing for either Ocean (1,858 yards, 21 touchdowns) or Hudson (355 yards, 5 TDs) to be under center, and said senior tailback Kwesi Kyei-Fordjour (547 yards) is a “hard-running load” to compliment Pryor’s speed.

Senior wide receiver Devin Chandler leads the Huskies with 12 receiving touchdowns and 808 receiving yards on 47 catches. Till said Chandler can “fly at wide receiver” and that Hough has “very good high school players who will keep us balanced.”

Richmond’s defense will not only have to prepare for the players, but also combat long scoring plays. Till explained that the Huskies rely on using “speed and space” to find the end zone from long distances. The key to shutting that down will be to limit the space before the ball gets into the hands of the receivers or running backs and using leverage from Richmond’s blockers.

“We’ll do whatever we feel like is necessary to win,” Till said. “It’s a chess match with checks and disguises. The question is always going to be can we play the ball well when it’s snapped and are we in the best position.”

On the other side of the ball, the Raider offense is as primed as it has been all season. Two weeks ago, the passing and running game put on a clinic against Scotland High School, scoring three times each through the air and on the ground. 

A high-scoring offense all season behind the likes of Caleb Hood, Jaheim Covington, Dalton Stroman and Jakolbe Baldwin and Jaron Coleman, among others including a stout offensive line, the Raiders will look to maintain their pace against the Huskies.

Hough’s defense is centered around its nose tackle, sophomore Curtis Neal, who Till called one of the top players in the state at his position. The 6-3, 290-pound defensive tackle has 50 total tackles and is tied with teammate Isaac Walker with the team lead in sacks (5). Of Walker, Till noted he’s “really long,” which helps him get to the ball faster from the defensive edge.

Other notable defensive players include leading tackler Storm Monroe (senior inside linebacker, 102 tackles), senior safety Jack Shryock (58 tackles, 2 interceptions), and a skilled secondary that has 11 total picks this season.

“Their linebackers are well-coached, and the defense can read schemes that other teams are running,” Till noted. “They have given up (a lot of) points in some games this season, but they can turn it around and have a shutout like last week.”

What’s shaping up to be a playoff-caliber game on paper between the two schools, the Raiders are looking to prove themselves in a tough West bracket. Richmond will look to earn a much-desired playoff win over a Charlotte-based program, something that will have to happen several times if the Raiders want to play for a 4AA title.

The x-factor, Till noted, will be a strong community presence in the stands on Friday. A pep rally bonfire will be held Thursday at 5:30 p.m. near the school’s softball field, but a boisterous home section at kickoff is what the head coach believes will help his team the most.

“There are people coming in from different parts of the state, and we have a reputation for being a tough place to play,” Till closed. “I want to see our fans bolster that reputation and be loud and excited when we play.”

 

Richmond’s playoff run kicks off Friday at home starting at 7:30 p.m.


Kyle Pillar

Three-time 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_