ROCKINGHAM — Everything is — finally — back to normal.
After being limited to a total of four practices over the previous two weeks, the Richmond football team is more than eager for Friday night’s contest — its first Sandhills Athletic Conference game of the season — at Pinecrest.
Head coach Bryan Till said early Wednesday morning that “it feels a little bit” like the Raiders are just starting the season, but getting back into a daily rhythm lately is slowly but surely bringing that familiar feeling back.
“Being able to practice last week really helped us combat it more than anything else,” he said of the fact that his team hasn’t played a game since Sept. 7. “Having a normal routine and a game plan this week helps a ton. We know what we’re practicing and we know which meetings are going to be every day, so that helps, too.”
The Raiders (3-1) were scheduled to open SAC play at Purnell Swett last week but the flooding in Robeson County called for the game to be rescheduled, so now they’re preparing for a physical, run-heavy Pinecrest team that also won three of its four non-conference games. The Patriots’ latest outing was a 36-14 victory over Providence on Sept. 7.
“I think (the conference opener) is big no matter who you play, but if you’ve got a team that has a chance to win the conference also, you feel like it’s that much bigger,” Till said of the matchup. “It’s important to be able to win that game and put some space in between you and them, to ultimately get to your goal of winning a conference championship.”
Richmond won’t have the luxury of making mistakes and losing battles at the point of attack, Till says, if it wants to come away with a win in both teams’ return to the field. The Patriots (3-1) have a “pretty clean game” and will be looking to use their size upfront to create lanes for their runners coming out of the backfield.
In its three wins, Pinecrest has amassed a total of 849 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. Senior back Zaythan Hill racked up 516 yards and five scores in those wins. A couple other threats in the Pinecrest run game are senior back Corey Patterson (126 yards and a score against Laney) and senior quarterback Greg Vansteen (three TDs on the season).
The Patriots’ loss to Hillside in Week 3 was the only time they were held under 200 rushing yards and without a score.
“Winning first downs is going to be huge. If they get three of four yards on first down, they’re as happy as they can be — they’ll feel like they’re right on schedule,” Till said. “They’ll also try and throw a play-action pass down the field to catch you asleep on with your eyes in the wrong place, so winning first downs and discipline will be two huge things.
“They’re really well-coached,” he added, “so you can’t give them anything or they’ll take advantage of it.”
The excitement that the Raiders played with a few weeks ago at Butler, where they was able to stand tall with one of the best teams in the state and earn an 11-point victory, is the same kind of play Till wants to see in Southern Pines.
Having players record back-to-back sacks on pivotal defensive possessions, getting two rushing touchdowns from junior running back Jaheim Covington, or seeing sophomore quarterback Caleb Hood find sophomore receiver Jakolbe Baldwin in the back of the end zone are all things that would make for another successful Friday night.
“I don’t want that to be a flash in the pan. I want that to be something we’re known for,” Till stated. “I think it may be close, but those one or two plays on a third-and-short or a fourth-and-short will be the difference in the ball game, so I want us to be excited and be extremely physical.”
NOTE: Advanced tickets will be on sale in the office at Richmond Senior HS and can be purchased up until noon on Friday. Also, Pinecrest will be using the baseball gate as the visitor gate on Friday, so they’re asking that all Raider fans use the baseball gate for entry to the game.
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. by phone at 910-817-2673 or by email at [email protected] For stories, scores and updates, follow the Daily Journal’s sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.