ROCKINGHAM — Cary football coach Ben Kolstad sounded a little like Gene Hackman’s character Norman Dale in the movie “Hoosiers” when he talked about bringing his team into Raider Stadium.
It is unlikely Kolstad has plans for his players to measure the field or the height of the crossbar on the goal posts, like Dale did when the Hickory team entered Hinkle Fieldhouse for the first time.
“It’s a big stadium and a neat atmosphere,” Kolstad said. “It’s a once in a lifetime experience for the kids. We have been trying to prepare them for that this week. There are 30 high schools in Wake County and we don’t have anything like that.”
While Richmond Senior has a laundry list of opponents in its 41-year history, the two schools have only met twice on the gridiron and like tonight’s matchup those games were in the postseason.
And those contests were back in the 1970s, long before any of today’s players were born. The Raiders knocked off the Imps 21-6 in 1974 in the second round of the playoffs and cruised to a 34-8 victory in the opening round two years later.
But Kalstad understands the aura of Raider football.
“A couple of my coaches are familiar with Richmond,” Kolstad said. “I have followed them in the playoffs and I know they typically are in the west. I know a little bit about their tradition.”
Now 36 years after the last meeting, Richmond and Cary are set to faceoff once again but are coming into the matchup on opposite ends of the spectrum.
The Imps faced a must-win game last week to get into the playoffs, while the Raiders knew they were guaranteed a spot heading into their season finale with Scotland.
With starting quarterback Jordan Dawson sidelined because of an injury, Cary used Trebion Hackney’s 91-yard kickoff return of the second half kickoff to score its only touchdown to slip past Athens Drive 9-7.
Richmond had its perfect season and chance to reclaim the Southeastern Conference championship slip through its fingers as Scotland quarterback Jaylend Ratliffe scored the game-winning touchdown on a 25-yard run with just under three minutes left in the game.
Last week’s results allowed the Imps to earn a wild-card berth and the eighth seed in the 4AA Midwest pod, while the Raiders still managed to snag the No. 1 seed and will have home-field advantage until the East Region final if Garner advances as well.
“I felt like to have lost the game Friday night and gotten the draw we did, we are pretty lucky,” Richmond coach Paul Hoggard said. “That’s not to say there aren’t really good teams in it with us, but the draw was about as good as we could have gotten.”
Hoggard knows his Raiders can’t think ahead and punch their tickets to Garner with three obstacles in front of them, the first being the Imps.
Despite Cary’s 5-5 record on the season, its losses are by a combined 30 points. The biggest margin of defeat was a 14-0 shutout at Fuquay-Varina, which is the No. 4 seed in the Midwest.
“We’ve been in a lot of tough games,” Kolstad said. “We’ve played a lot of close games and lost most of them.”
The statistics back up Kolstad’s assertion. The Imps are averaging 20.4 points per game on offense, while surrendering 16.1. Six of their games were decided by a touchdown or less with the Imps ending up on the wrong side of the scoreboard in four of them.
Kalstad said he has a run-first philosophy and wants to string first downs together for long, lengthy drives which will take large chunks of time off the clock. Spearheading the Imps’ rushing attack is senior Marquise Sherrod-Ponds, who has run for 1,289 yards and eight scores. Dawson is second on the team with 484 yards and four touchdowns.
“That’s what we want to do,” Kolstad said about running the ball. “Our defense has been pretty good, the only time they haven’t been is when we turned the ball over and put them in a bad situation. We think we have a pretty good gameplan.”
Richmond defensive coordinator James Johnson knows his unit will face a tough task of trying to stop Sherrod-Ponds. Last week against the Fighting Scots, the Raiders surrendered 245 rushing yards.
“They are a zone-run team, kind of like Lee County, Sun Valley and West Forsyth,” Johnson said. “They really want to get the ball to No. 27 (Sherrod-Ponds). They really want to get him going and get him running downhill.”
On the season, Richmond has allowed two other opponents besides Scotland to run for more than 200 yards in a game — Sun Valley and West Forsyth. Johnson added the Imps, despite racking up just over 2,000 rushing yards, Imps aren’t afraid of putting the ball in the air. Dawson has completed 75 of 153 attempts for 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“They have some hitches, slants, bubbles, post, wheel and flood routes they like to do,” Johnson said. “And they will throw some screens to their running back. They can hit you with a variety of things.”
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.