ROCKINGHAM — The Richmond football team’s goal this week has been to avoid the distractions.
Head coach Bryan Till understands the excitement that comes with it being Homecoming Week, he’s aware of the school system’s decision to close schools on Thursday, and he, too, is keeping an eye on the path of Hurricane Michael.
Those things, however, shouldn’t keep Richmond (5-1, 2-0 SAC) from preparing to win its fifth straight game when it hosts conference foe Hoke County (0-6, 0-2 SAC) on Friday. And so far this week, they haven’t.
“The process is kind of tough when you have all these things … but I think it’s a credit to our kids and the fact that they love football enough to where (the game) is more important,” Till said. “We’ve had a good couple of days of practice. They’re really flying around out there. They seem to be having a good time and really enjoying themselves.”
That kind of energy and enthusiasm is going to be needed when the Raiders take the field to end the week, as the Bucks — although winless on the season — have shown, in spurts, that they can compete with some of the top teams in the area.
Last week, Hoke dropped a 28-27 overtime decision to Scotland behind an all-around performance from senior quarterback Xavier Ford, who finished with 128 passing yards, 104 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The closest game between Hoke and Scotland in the last few years, before last week’s thriller, was the Scots’ 28-2 victory in Raeford in 2016.
Hoke also played well in its 34-20 loss at undefeated Lee County in early September.
“I think what you’re seeing is a better Hoke County team, fundamentally, than what you’ve seen in the last couple of years. And I think our guys recognize that on film, too,” Till said. “You can see them getting better and better each week.”
One of the things that have hurt the Bucks this year, however, are turnovers. They coughed up the ball six times in their loss to Seventy-First, and have given up the football in a couple of key situations during other games as well.
Although Till said there hasn’t been an emphasis on getting turnovers this week, he does expect his defense to run to the ball and the finish the tackle on every play — which could ultimately lead to a mistake from the Hoke County offense.
“We know that turnovers are important, but our focus is always running to the ball,” he explained. “We had a couple of guys (in practice) yesterday not running to the ball and it was good to hear their teammates get on them because they know that’s the standard — and I think that’s the reason why we’ve played such good defense.
“I think the turnovers come when you’re flying to the football.”
The Raiders, who have seven fumble recoveries but no interceptions on the season, expect seniors Jake Ransom and Bobby Terry and junior D.J. Stephens to return to the field this week.
Ransom will get back to leading the way on the offensive line, Terry looks to help move the chains in the pass and run games, and Stephens hopes to get back to making plays in the kick-return game and as a member of the secondary.
Junior linebacker Joerail White is eyeing a return in the next couple of weeks, as he’s “progressing really well” now that he’s a few months removed from a knee surgery. And junior running back LaCyrus Ellerbe could be back next week, when Richmond is expected to travel to Lumberton, to help take the load off junior running back Jaheim Covington.
“This will make our depth a lot better in some places,” Till said.
‘YEAR OF THE EIGHT’ ANNOUNCEMENT
There will be an announcement made at Friday night’s Homecoming game about the football program’s desire to recognize the four teams that won a state title in the years that ended with a eight (1978, 1988, 1998, 2008) during halftime of the last home regular-season game — which is against rival Scotland — on Friday, Nov. 2.
“We’re hoping a lot of those folks can come back and be here for that,” Till said.
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.