ROCKINGHAM — Friday night’s football game versus Seventy-First has huge implications.
A win would give the Raiders a clean shot at the No. 2 spot in the Sandhills Athletic Conference’s final standings, as well as put them in position to battle for the conference title next week. If they were to lose, though, the Raiders would more than likely finish the year as the SAC’s fourth-best team.
That may be a lot for Richmond to digest while also getting ready for its final home game of the regular season, but first-year head coach Bryan Till believes everyone — from players to coaches — should be aware of what’s at stake. Because at this stage in the season, in the position that his team finds itself in, every game counts.
“I think you ought to get excited about it. When you get into coaching, and definitely as a player, these are the types of games you dream about playing in. Nobody dreams about just going through the motions,” Till explained. “It’s important not to focus so much on it that you lose sight of what your goal is, but it’s important to enjoy the fact that there are a lot schools that aren’t playing in these type of games in the last two weeks of the season.
“So let’s go about it with the right energy.”
Seventy-First (7-2, 4-1 SAC) is in a similar situation with only one loss in conference play and doesn’t plan on leaving Raider Stadium with another. It was on a five-game winning streak before losing to Scotland in Week 9, but got back on track with a 41-12 win over Purnell Swett last week.
The Falcons know how to turn their positive yards into points on the board. They average 35 points per outing as a result of their offensive balance, which is shown by senior wide receiver Reggie Bryant having almost as many receiving yards (1,029) as senior tailback Fabion Jones does rushing yards (1,031).
With that kind of information at hand, Till expects Seventy-First to make some big plays Friday night. He’s more concerned with how his team will respond to a big run from Jones on third down or a touchdown pass to Bryant — who currently ranks second in the state in receiving yards and fifth in receving touchdowns (12).
“They’re as balanced as any offensive football team, so they’re going to make some plays,” Till said. “The question is, can we limit those plays? Can we, after they make a big play, get a tackle or a stop without the emotional let down? That’s going to be a big thing for us.”
Richmond (6-3, 4-1 SAC) started the week on a positive note despite the rain, as Till said players had “a little bounce in their steps and were excited” during Monday’s practice. A few players who have been nursing injuries — all starters at one point in the season — are getting some reps in at practice, hoping to restore the team’s depth moving forward.
Senior running back Dante Miller, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season, will be looking to continue his stellar play. He’s racked up a total of 268 yards and four touchdowns on 19 carries in the last two games.
“He just has to continue to compete and continue being himself,” Till said. “For all our seniors, we want them to focus on how we’re going to finish this thing and what legacy they’re going to leave behind.”
With losses to Wake Forest, Butler and Jack Britt on their resume, the Raiders are out to prove that they belong in the state-championship conversation. And a victory over Seventy-First on Friday could give them a much-needed confidence boost as things start to heat up.
“Yeah, we can play with anybody, but playing with them ain’t winning,” Till said. “This is the point of the season where we’ve got to stop talking about playing with good teams and actually start beating good teams.”
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. at 910-817-2673 and follow the sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.
Richmond senior tailback Dante Miller, right, receives a pitch from freshman quarterback Caleb Hood (5) during the latter part of Wednesday’s practice. Miller has rushed for 1,018 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, and will be looking to lead the Raiders to victory in their big game against Seventy-First on Friday.