ROCKINGHAM — As temperatures drop and the anticipation for this week’s Homecoming game grows, the Richmond football team is reminded that its entering the final stretch of the regular season.
That’s why on Friday night, when they host Lumberton in front of what should be a big crowd, the Raiders will need to prevail in order to keep themselves in contention for a shot at the inaugural Sandhills Athletic Conference title.
First-year head coach Bryan Till believes his players will rise to the occasion, but first, they have to drown out all of the distractions that come with it being Spirit Week around the school. Till says they’ve handled things well so far this week and expects it to continue into, and throughout, the Week 10 matchup.
“I love to tell the guys, there’s a time and place for everything. When we get to football practice and when we get into the weight room, it’s time to focus on what we’re doing,” Till said. “Friday night’s going to be the time to play a football game, so we won’t have time to worry about all the other stuff. We have to realize that those distractions can keep you from winning.”
Richmond (5-3, 3-1 SAC) was stunned by Jack Britt on the road two weeks ago, but bounced back with a 49-point win over Hoke County last week. The offense picked up 277 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, the defense scored a touchdown — on a blocked punt — and recorded an interception, and the special teams unit witnessed senior Kaleb Douglas return a punt 45 yards for a score.
Those kinds of all-around efforts, Till says, is what the coaching staff wants to see on a consistent basis.
“That’s what we want every week. We want to create plays on special teams, create some plays on defense that our offense can feed off of, and vice versa,” he explained.
Lumberton (2-6, 1-3 SAC) hasn’t had quite the success, but junior quarterback Braylan Grice has been nothing short of a bright spot for “probably the best two-win team in the state.” He accounted for 429 yards of total offense in the Pirates’ 34-27 loss to Pinecrest last week, throwing for 287 yards and rushing for 142 yards and four touchdowns.
Grice has as many rushing touchdowns as he does passing touchdowns (11) this season. He uses his 6-2, 215-pound frame to run through defenders and toss the ball to guys like junior wideout Kwashek Breeden.
“He’s a bad dude. He plays quarterback but is probably one of the best running backs we’re going to face. And he can sling it a country mile,” Till said. “They’ve got some other weapons he can get the ball to, but he’s scary.”
In order to contain Lumberton’s do-it-all junior, the Raiders are looking to bring that feeling of apprehension from the practice field to their home stadium at the end of the week.
Being anxious or tense doesn’t work well for most, but Till strongly believes his defensive unit plays its best when it’s “tight,” as players are paying attention to their assignments and locking in on their keys — which leads to defensive outings like last week at Hoke or two weeks ago versus Pinecrest.
When they’ve come out “a little too loose,” a number of unwanted touchdowns were scored by the opposing teams’ offensive units — like Purnell Swett going for 34 points in Week 6 or Reagan putting 24 points on the board in the season opener.
“Overall, the kids understand where we are,’” he said. “And I think the cold weather helps with that. It kind of lets you know that it’s getting towards the end. Things are changing and it’s getting time to put up or shut up.”
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. at 910-817-2673 and follow the sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.