ROCKINGHAM — Many didn’t believe the Richmond football team would be in this situation after being stunned at Jack Britt four weeks ago. But thanks to three consecutive wins, its now preparing for a shot at the conference’s top spot.
On Friday, the Sandhills Athletic Conference championship will be on the line when the Raiders travel to rival Scotland for what could be the most-anticipated game between the two programs in recent years.
Richmond (7-3, 5-1 SAC) has gone through a change in culture with first-year head coach Bryan Till throwing freshman quarterback Caleb Hood in the fire in their debut seasons, while Scotland (8-1, 6-0 SAC) is enjoying the last of senior running back Zamir White and chasing its seventh straight conference title.
“A lot of folks didn’t expect us to be here…to even be in contention (for the conference title). So we’re loving that,” Till said. “The mindset right now is to just practice hard. We’ve got be prepared, because this is a very, very good football team.”
It’s no secret that White — the No. 1 running back in the nation and a University of Georgia commit — will be heavily involved in Scotland’s offensive game plan Friday night. His brash style of running, mixed with his speed, has caused problems for every Scotland opponent so far this season.
White has 1,625 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns on 117 carries, and also leads the team with 208 receiving yards. Three weeks ago, against Seventy-First, he ran for 310 yards and three touchdowns.
“You go in there to tackle high and he’s going to put you on his highlight tape,” Till said of White. “We’ve got to tackle low. The first guy there has to wrap up, hold on, and know everybody else is coming. Pursuit is going to be huge this week.
“But we have to be excited about the challenge of playing against such a high-level competitor,” he continued. “Look forward to going out and doing what we’re supposed to do against a guy like that, and making your own name.”
The Raiders can’t devote all their attention to White, however, or Scotland senior quarterback Warren Bell — a transfer from Westover HS — will find different ways to break down their defense. Bell has more rushing yards (940) than he does passing yards (716), but his ability to beat teams deep on play-action passes will keep Till’s defensive unit at bay.
“When you look at that kind of thing, that’s what makes it tough. You’d love to key in on Zamir but Bell really makes it hard to do that,” Till said. “We’ve got to play honest.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Richmond’s biggest task will be getting Hood to recognize where Scotland’s blitzes are coming from and understand where his outlets will be in those situations. The 15-year old has consistently shown how composed he can be in the pocket, but the amount of defensive movement from the Scots can be overwhelming.
So he’ll need help from his offensive line, wide receivers and running backs to continue their solid play in the regular-season finale. Senior tailback Dante Miller has rushed for more than 100 yards and a touchdown in each of the last three games, and junior wideout Malik Stanback came up big late last week with an 86-yard score in the final three minutes.
“We’ve just got to be us. We’re balanced (on offense) and we’re going to continued to be balanced,” Till said. “We’ve got to take advantage of what they’re doing, and be aware of the blitz and what our responsibilites are with their rolling coverages.”
Although it has the edge in the overall series (35-14-1), Richmond hasn’t earned a win over Scotland since 2010. Friday’s game will be the fourth straight year that these two programs are meeting to decide who will be crowned conference champion — the Scots took all three (2016, 2015, 2014) in order to continue their six-year reign at the top.
The thought of grabbing a win in Laurinburg in his first year has crossed Till’s mind a number of times in the past few days, but he then proceeds to dial things back a bit to ask himself: “What am I doing to make that happen?”
Making sure everyone is on the same page in all three phases of the game will be important for him, and the team, as excitement alone won’t result in the Raiders coming out with a victory.
They’ll have to channel that energy and turn it into production when the lights hit the gridiron Friday night.
“A win would go a long way, because it’s always tough as a first-year head coach. It’s easy for everyone to say ‘go get ‘em, coach’ but everybody’s still watching. They want to know if they should buy into this guy or not,” Till said. “But we believe in our kids, our coaches and what we’re doing. And that’s all you can ask.”
Presale tickets for the rivalry game, which will kickoff at 7:30 p.m., are being sold at Richmond High School, Family Pharmacy, Medical Center Pharmacy and Mabry’s Pharmacy.
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. at 910-817-2673 and follow the sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.
The Richmond defense will have its hands full, chasing around running back Zamir White and quarterback Warren Bell, when the team travels to Scotland on Friday night. It will be the fourth consecutive year that the Raiders and the Scots play for the conference championship in their regular-season finales.