ROCKINGHAM — One week from today is a chance for Richmond Senior to get revenge, win a Southeastern Conference title and grab a top seed in the 4AA playoffs, all in one game.
The only thing that stands between the Raiders and those goals — Pinecrest.
The Patriots don’t have any plans on making it easy for the home team. In fact, Pinecrest has its eyes fixed on possibly snagging a piece of the SEC crown with a victory over Richmond and a Scotland loss to the Raiders next week.
Richmond coach Paul Hoggard knows first-hand the challenges the Patriots can bring to the field. In 2008, Pinecrest upset the eventual 4AA state champions 31-28 in Raider Stadium. Last season, while driving for a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Patriots lost a fumble inside the Raider 5. On his team’s next and final possession of the contest, Pinecrest quarterback Travis Scales was intercepted by Richmond cornerback Steve Houston with less than a minute to play to seal the Raiders’ 12-7 victory.
“They will be very excited about playing us and having the chance to possibly tie for the conference championship,” Richmond coach Paul Hoggard said. “They are in third by themselves right now. I hope our guys are just as excited to play as they will be.”
Pinecrest is accustomed to lining up against the state’s best. The Patriots have already battled Jack Britt, New Hanover and Scotland this season. Not including Richmond, Pinecrest’s opponents have won 61.8 percent of its contests.
“They have played a really difficult schedule,” Hoggard said. “They beat us and they’re in the driver’s seat for second. This is a really, really big game for us.”
In last week’s 30-17 win over Lumberton, Richmond was forced to overcome a halftime-deficit for the first time this year. Despite outgaining the Pirates by nearly 50 yards in the first half, the Raiders headed into the locker room trailing 10-6. Richmond didn’t take the lead for good until the closing minute of the third quarter, when Diquon Cox scored on a 3-yard run.
“When you have Raiders written across your chest, you are going to get everybody’s best shot,” Hoggard said. “Looking at the stats, I see we had 300 rushing yards against Hoke and 303 against Lumberton, 61 yards passing against Hoke and 154 against Lumberton. I think we probably played our best game against Hoke.
“Against Lumberton, we didn’t play that well at times. We didn’t excute that well on offense against Lumberton.”
Hoggard continued to talk about the Raiders’ focus as they head into the final two weeks of the regular season.
“When we have the proper mental approach, we’re pretty good,” he said. “When we don’t, well, we’re not that good.”
Richmond defensive coordinator James Johnson echoed Hoggard’s comments about focus when it comes to his unit. After allowing 148 yards of offense to the Pirates in the first half, the Raiders surrendered just 63 in the final 24 minutes. And most of those yards came on Lumberton’s final drive of the game.
“We really didn’t make any major adjustments at halftime,” Johnson said. “The second half was pretty good except for some dumb penalties.”
Just like last week, Johnson expects his defense to get a good dose of smashmouth football. While Lumberton’s running backs get the majority of the carries in the Wing-T, Pinecrest will utilize the quarterback in its Veer option attack.
Dwayne Simpson, who moved from running back to quarterback earlier this year, ran for a team-high 124 yards in a 20-7 win over Purnell Swett. The senior accounted for all three of his team’s scores last, rushing for two touchdowns and passing for another. Simpson has a team-leading 21 touchdowns this season.
“We have to win first and second down,” Johnson said. “Even if it is third-and-long, they will continue to try and pound it against you. They will have the patience to keep running it. They aren’t going to radically change things they have done all year. If they do, we will make the adjustments”
In injury news, Richmond will once again be without Dakwa Nichols in the backfield. The senior made a brief appearance against Lumberton, rushing six times for 31 yards. Hoggard said Nichols is still trying to battle through a sprained foot. Wide receiver Raheem Bowden should see limited action after dislocating his right elbow against Hoke, while cornerback Devontae Watkins is also expected to return for the Raiders.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.