LAURINBURG — For six straight years, Scotland and Richmond have met at the end of the season with the Southeastern Conference championship hanging in the balance — and each time, the Scots have gotten the better of their arch-nemesis.
This season, the conference might have a new name but Friday will be an all-too-familiar scene — the Scots and Raiders will once again play for conference supremacy in Pate Stadium.
Friday will mark the 50th meeting of the two programs and despite a six-year win streak by the Fighting Scots, the Raiders lead the 50-year rivalry with a 35-14-1 record.
“A lot of that damage was done 18 times in a row, which makes it a little more painful, but I’ve done my part since coming here to put a dent in that number,” said Scotland head coach Richard Bailey. “Scotland winning a little bit has added more fire to the rivalry. Richmond, I’m sure, is very hungry to end the streak, just like Scotland was for 18 seasons.”
Since taking over at Scotland in 2012, Bailey has yet to lose to Richmond — or any conference opponent. He will look to secure his seventh victory in a row against the Raiders at the end of the week.
Bragging rights aren’t the only thing on the line for Bailey and his squad, the Fighting Scots are also vying for the No. 1 seed in the NCHSAA 4A playoffs in the East Region along with home-field advantage and a seventh consecutive conference championship.
“We want to be the inaugural conference champions in the SAC-8 because even though the name of the conference changed the results are the same,” Bailey said. “It’s not just any other game, there is a lot on the line.”
Richmond enters Friday’s battle royale with a 7-3 overall record and are 5-1 in SAC-8 play. The Raiders three losses came against Wake Forest (38-13) in Week 2; David W. Butler (27-21) in Week 4 and Jack Britt (41-20) in Week 7.
Both Wake Forest and Butler are in the Top 10 rankings in the state and Jack Britt has rebounded and will likely make the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
Richmond is led by freshman quarterback Caleb Hood who comes from Raiders roots, his father played for Richmond, and the familiarity with the program and the game elevates his play according to Bailey.
“He’s a veteran freshman, if there is such a thing, by this time of the year he’s at least a sophomore by now. He’s going to be a nightmare for us the next four years because he can throw it and run it,” Bailey said. “They are an uptempo, spread, triple-option team but they predominantly still try to run the football.”
Hood has completed 109 passes for 1,672 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. On the ground, the freshman has 62 carries for 261 yards and five touchdowns.
Richmond’s other back-field threat is senior Dante Miller who has 141 carries for 1,198 yards and 16 touchdowns. He is flanked by sophomore Jaheim Covington who has 74 carries for 466 yards and eight touchdowns.
Despite returning to their rushing heritage, Richmond hasn’t completely abandoned the passing game. The Raiders leading receiver is junior Malik Stanback with 27 receptions for 597 yards and four touchdowns. If Stanback is covered, Hood will air it out to senior Dashaun Wallace, who has 22 catches for 414 yards and six touchdowns.
First-year head coach Bryan Till has a different approach to Richmond’s offense than former coach Mike Castellano — something Bailey and the Scots took note of in their film study this week.
“Castellano was more of a spread, throw it every time. We came into last year’s game knowing we had to stop the passing game,” he said. “They are a lot more balanced on offense this year, so we have to be just as concerned about the pass as we are the run.”
The other thing Bailey will take into account on Friday night is that pesky Raider Magic — Richmond’s uncanny ability to win games that seem far and away out of their reach.
Bailey is a skeptic when it comes to the validity of “magic” in football, but does believe that the harder you work, the luckier you are.
“Richmond’s kids never give up and they keep playing and because they do that some great things have happened through out the years. The game is never over with them, they have found a way to win a lot of games. Those kids are brought up hearing about Raider Magic and in their minds there is always a way,” Bailey said. “That magic hasn’t paid off in the last seven years, so like our song says we don’t need no magic.”
Before the Fighting Scots do battle with the Raiders they will celebrate Senior Night and honor the 32 players that make up the Class of 2017. Those players include, in numerical order, Javon Ratliffe, Marqwues Wilson, Khalil Smith, Desmond Davis, Chris Williams, Warren Bell, Laron Quick, Tyrek Waters, Ian Spangler, Trey Dixon, Davon Ratliffe, Tim Jones, Manny Smith, Isaiah McQueen, Brenton Thomas, T.J. Smith, Zamir White, Kalish McNair, Keante McNair, Deonte Singletary, Tyler Lockey, Tyrone Davis, Isaiah McPhatter, Hunter Sheppard, Tim Williams, Darian Reeves, Garrett Beach, Anthony Butler, Tyler Smith, Tripp Wells, Da’Jour McLaughlin and Tavis Harrington.
“These seniors have never lost to Richmond, they know nothing about the decades long losing streak, all they know is they are supposed to beat the Raiders,” Bailey said. “They are leaving a legacy, they’ve had the winningest four years in the history of Scotland football and we want to finish that off with a state championship. This group needs to be very proud of what they’ve done.”
Gates for Friday’s game will open at 5:30 p.m., fans are encouraged to come early in order to get a parking space, through the security line and into a seat before the start of the game. Fans can purchase advance tickets at Shirt Tales and Scotland Bling until 12 p.m. on Friday. Kick off is set for 7:30 p.m. but the senior football players and cheerleaders will be recognized starting at 7:05 p.m.
Amber Hatten can be reached at 910-506-3170.