ROCKINGHAM — A mere 48 minutes is all that separates Richmond Senior from heading into its bye week with a perfect 5-0 mark.
Richmond faced the same task when West Forsyth rolled into Raider Stadium last year. The Raiders pulled off an offensive effort that coach Paul Hoggard called the “smoothest we have been offensively this season” in a 41-13 victory.
The defense appeared headed for a shutout, which would have been the 100th in school history, but the Titans scored two touchdowns in the game’s final 7:02 to spoil the whitewashing.
Just like last season’s matchup, the contest will feature two teams with different philosophies on offense. Richmond has a quick-strike ability to score from anywhere on the field with a handful of players. West Forsyth, on the other hand, wants to grind it out and gain huge chunks of yards on the ground.
The Raiders are averaging just under 600 yards of offense this season, rushing for 398 yards, while tossing for another 194 in the air. After being held to a season-low 41 points by South View, Richmond saw its scoring average dip to 52.5 points a game. Defensively, the Raiders are allowing the opposition to score 15.8 points a game.
Richmond’s Dakwa Nichols has rushed for a team-high 508 yards and eight touchdowns on 42 carries. Nichols is one of four Raiders who is averaging at least 10 yards per touch this season with a minimum of 10 carries. Elijah Goodwin and Reggie Harden have 17.4- and 15-yard averages, respectively. Brent Flowers is chipping in with a 13.1 yard per carry average.
In the air, Flowers has connected on 30 of his 44 passes for 650 yards and 11 touchdowns. The junior has yet to toss an interception. Backup Antonio Edens is 8-for-13 with 136 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Flowers’ favorite target has been Trent Bostick, who has 17 receptions for 314 yards and five touchdowns. Raheem Bowden has seven catches, but five have gone for scores this season.
After being held to a safety in their season-opening loss to East Forsyth, the Titans have scored at least 26 points in their last three games. West Forsyth (3-1) is averaging 25.8 points a contest and surrendering 16.8.
Hoggard knows the Raiders will have to match the physical play of the Titans, just as they did against Anson and South View, which also have a run-first philosophy.
“They still have some good-sized kids,” Hoggard said. “They also have good team speed on defense. They are very similar to last year’s team.”
Through the first three weeks of the season, the Richmond offense appeared to be on cruise control and seemingly scoring at will. The Raiders didn’t start the year off right with a three-and-out against Sun Valley and had only punted twice until facing the Tigers, when they matched their season’s total.
One of the points Hoggard continues to stress to his players is their focus. He believes if they continue to improve on this aspect of the game, then the sky could be the limit for the Raiders.
“I think we have gotten better since the beginning of the year,” Hoggard said. “It never happens as fast as a coach would like, but I am pleased with how we are practicing and playing. I see a lot of improvement we can make. How much we improve will depend on their mental approach.
“If we can match our talent level, we can be pretty good. We haven’t done that yet.”
One week after posting shutout No. 100 in the school’s 41-year history, Richmond’s defense allowed a touchdown on South View’s first possession of the game. After that score, defensive coordinator James Johnson was generally pleased with his unit’s effort.
“The first pass was a mistake by the corner, there’s really nothing more to it,” Johnson said. “The long runs were because we were trying different things on the defensive line. With the limited amount of practice time, it’s tough to simulate everything you are going to see in a game.”
Despite surrendering three rushes of more than 20 yards and two pass plays longer than 30 yards, Johnson saw a bright spot — his team’s ability to run down a ball carrier.
“The kids did a great job pursuing the ball,” Johnson said. “The kids are playing hard and smart. When we blitzed as much as we did Friday, it’s a gamble on my part because we may be successful nine times out of 10, but that 10th one may give up a 20-yard run. I’m OK with that because of the way we were able to run things down.”
Johnson added with West Forsyth wanting to run the ball and control the clock, Richmond has to put the Titans in long yardage situations like it did against Anson and South View.
“We want to get them where applying pressure is a good thing for us,” Johnson said. “If it was one of the teams out of Charlotte which have a more advanced screen game, a second-and-17 doesn’t matter. They will throw the ball, but they want to do it on their terms.”
West Forsyth will be without Nick Maat, its top rusher last season, who was lost for the year after suffering a foot injury in a 41-12 win over Carver. In Maat’s absence, Kealand Dirks has stepped into the starting running back role and registered three touchdowns in each of the Titans’ victories over Carver and Glenn.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com