Wednesday, 27 November 2019 20:19

PREVIEW: No. 1 Raiders 'wanted' rematch opportunity with Myers Park, Maye

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Head coach Bryan Till and the Raiders look to redeem themselves against Myers Park in the third round of the NCHSAA 4AA West playoffs. Head coach Bryan Till and the Raiders look to redeem themselves against Myers Park in the third round of the NCHSAA 4AA West playoffs. Kyle Pillar — Sports Editor.

ROCKINGHAM — “Yes, sir” were the two words spoken by every Richmond Senior High School football player when asked if he was ready for a shot at redemption in Friday’s third-round playoff game.

Whether it was dual-threat junior quarterback Caleb Hood, linebackers CJ Tillman or Joerail White, smiling defensive end Javon Little, members of the offensive line or just guys standing on the sideline waiting for their reps during practice -- the energy has been overwhelmingly positive for the Raiders.

The top-seeded Raiders will welcome in No. 4 Myers Park High School for what will be a battle of unbeatens in the NCHSAA 4AA West quarterfinal round. It’ll be a rematch of last year’s third-round game which saw the Mustangs move on with a 37-14 win.

But things are different this time around explained Richmond head coach Bryan Till, and the hype surrounding the game is bigger than ever. Richmond (12-0) is another season older, more experienced and better prepared to battle a tough Myers Park (12-0) team. 

“The situation is a little different preparing for them with it being Thanksgiving week,” Till said following Wednesday’s practice. “It adds to the emotion to it, especially with people being in town for a third-round game. 

“As far as preparation and us, we are working on being the best team we can be,” he added. “At the end of the day, we can’t win a game by fooling somebody. We have to go out and be the better team.”

Making the trip from Charlotte will be head coach Scott Chadwick and a Mustang team that touts several Division I recruits. Among them are junior quarterback Drake Maye (Alabama), senior wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad III (Texas A&M), senior wideout Porter Rooks (N.C. State) and junior receiver Jordan Bly (N.C. Central).

The clash between the Raiders and Mustangs will be the only meeting of undefeated teams in this year’s playoffs, and Richmond holds the all-time record 3-2 over Myers Parks. But the visitors hold the postseason record, having beaten Richmond twice out of three tries.

As he explained in his exclusive video interview earlier in the week, Till and the Raiders are more confident about and better prepared for what it will take to win on such a big stage. And a lot of it has to do with the Raiders’ focus and desire.

“The boys are very focused and have been all season,” Till said. “They really understand what it’s going to take to win, their drive and their desire. And they understand the respect we have for (Myers Park) and what they can do.”

The first part of the equation to success on Friday will be the Raiders’ defense limiting Maye and the Mustangs’ extensive offensive passing threat. Muhammad, the 6-0, 190-pound son of former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad II, comes in as Maye’s No. 1 target with 1,006 receiving yards on 51 catches in 10 games, averaging 100.6 yards per performance. 

His 15 receiving scores are a third of Maye’s 45 touchdowns, which puts him tied for fourth in the state.

Flanking Maye on the other side is Rooks, a 6-1 target, who is second on the team with 47 receptions and 801 yards. Bly and Flip have hauled in 27 and 23 catches, respectively, and provide more options from the slot receiver position.

Maye is no stranger to airing the ball out, as the future Crimson Tide player is tossing a clip of 262.8 yards per game and his 45 scores through the air lead 4A play according to Maxpreps. He’s averaging just over four passing scores a game this season, and sits fifth in the state with 2,891 passing yards.

“They do so much on offense,” Till expressed. “Drake is a fantastic quarterback with a lot of weapons -- Muhammad, Rooks, Bly, Flip, and their tight end (Logan Mauldin). They do a good job play calling and distributing the ball.

“(Myers Park’s) offense is very diverse,” he explained. “Coach Chadwick does a great job setting his offense and we could see them in any formation from spread, to under center to two-tights.”

But enter a seasoned group of secondary veterans for the Raiders, whose job will be to shut down Maye and limit the receivers’ chance to make catches in space. Senior cornerbacks Zyier Baldwin and D’Marcus Harrington, along with senior safeties Dereck Barringer and Xavion Lindsey, have waited all season for another chance to show what they can do, and this season it will be against a Mustang team averaging 51.5 points per game.

Till is confident in his entire defense, which has limited opponents to just 11.58 points per game this season and forced nine interceptions and four fumble recoveries. Returning this week from a back injury will be Little, who’s the team’s sack (5) and quarterback hurries (15) leader.

“One of the big things for us will be to win one-on-one battles up front or in the secondary more consistently,” Till said. “Our job as coaches is to put our kids in position to win their battles, and whoever can do that will win.”

On the other side of the ball is Hood and an equally as explosive Raider offense that continues to dazzle fans with long scoring plays. Hood, a three-star recruit with over a half dozen Division I offers, has shown his growth the past three seasons as one of the state’s best dual-threat quarterbacks.

On the season, Hood has completed 105 passes for 1,998 yards and 21 touchdowns through the air, but has impressed on the ground with 823 yards and 11 more scores. This type of versatility has allowed for Richmond’s run-pass option to be effective against solid defenses all season, and Till expects no difference this time around.

Senior running back Jaheim Covington, who received his first official offer from South Carolina State University on Tuesday, will look to build off a career performance against Hough. The 5-10, 190-pound power back collected 204 yards and dashed home for a 99-yard score to seal the deal against the Huskies.

Through 12 games, Covington has 1,179 yards on 119 carries (9.9 yards per attempt) and 22 touchdowns. He, along with the shifty Jaron Coleman (681 yards, 10 TDs), will look to penetrate the Mustangs’ front seven. Richmond isn’t far behind in scoring, as the Raiders are averaging 43.91 points per game.

At Hood’s disposal on the perimeter will be junior wide receivers Dalton Stroman (668 yards, 9 TDs) and Jakolbe Baldwin (529 yards, 8 TDs), both of whom are enjoying breakout seasons that have landed them several Division I offers. Junior Tremel Jones and sophomore Kellan Hood have been pivotal in the slot game and all four receivers have produced solid upfield blocking all season.

“They run a 4-3 or a 4-2-5 defense depending on the personnel,” Till said of the Mustangs’ defense. “They’re a little more simplistic in the sense that they’re going to run to the ball and hit you.

“There are some disguises and they roll coverage from cover two or cover three,” he added. “They like to keep the ball in front and strike it, and don’t blitz a ton because the front four bring it.”

Players Till said the Raider are taking note of are senior safety Cameron Roseman-Sinclair (two interceptions), senior linebacker Roe Chitwood (leading 70 tackles), junior defensive end Myles Jones (3 sacks) and senior defensive end Joseph Bakhole (5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss).

Will the marquee matchup, Till said, will be Myers Park’s receivers and Richmond’s secondary, field position could also play a big role in the game. 

“Both defenses are allowing right around 10 points per game, and kickers getting touchbacks can hold offenses to long fields,” he said. “I can’t understate the importance of field position -- that could be huge in a game like this.

“The pressure at this point in the season is if you don’t win you’re going home,” he closed. “There’s a little extra desire to beat these guys from last year, so we’re really excited. It’s going to be fun because there are going to be so many people there. We wanted this opportunity.”

The Raider Tailgating group is encouraging fans to bring their favorite holiday dishes to the weekly event hosted along the access road leading to the fieldhouse. The community gathering will run from 4:30 p.m. until kickoff.

Also, Richmond’s head principal Jim Butler announced Wednesday that a Toys for Tots toy drive will be held during the third-round game. Fans wanting to participate can bring unwrapped, unopened toys and put them in the collection bins at each entry gate.

The Raiders and Mustangs officially kickoff at 7:30 p.m. in Raider Stadium.

Kyle Pillar

Sports Editor. IUP communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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