CHARLIE BERGMANN: Richmond Week: Patriots, Raiders Await Big Game
Try to picture waking up for the first time in three years and finding out that a Pinecrest football team with an 8-1 record is meeting 8-1 Richmond Senior on Friday night.
Even some Patriot boosters who have been wide awake the entire time might be pinching themselves as they head for the John Williams Athletic Complex for the 7:30 p.m. Senior Night kickoff. I'll be in that camp too about the time the Patriots burst through the giant Pinecrest helmet leading up to the kickoff.
The Patriots kept themselves in the race for the top spot in the Southeastern Conference by winning a 22-20 nailbiter against Purnell Swett last Friday. A 51-yard field goal against the wind by Dillon Maples, in an obvious punting situation, provided the margin of victory. Later, a stop of a Swett run near the Patriot goal line on the final play of the game ended a frightening Ram comeback attempt from the standpoint of Patriot partisans.
If all of that drama coupled with the pre-game landing of seven members of the U.S. Army's Golden Knights Parachute Team on the gridiron wasn't just too much fun, a week later a Raider team that Pinecrest coach Chris Metzger describes as a juggernaut is coming to town.
"When we got here in March of 2007, we talked about eventually having games like this," Metzger said this week. "It's here and we're going to have the opportunity to see if we're ready for this kind of game."
The Patriots take a 2-1 league mark into Friday's game against the 3-0, fifth-ranked and defending 4AA state champion Raiders. If the Pinecrest program that hit rock bottom in 2006 with an 0-11 record has a story to tell, so does Richmond.
The Raiders would like some payback for last season's stunning 31-28 loss to the Patriots on their homecoming night, and they are capable of getting it. They fell to 4-3-1 in their state championship season after also losing their next game 42-7 to Douglas Byrd.
Coach Paul Hoggard's squad then went on to win the next eight, including a 38-35 victory over Jack Britt in the state title game. It was the school's sixth state championship in football since 1988 and seventh overall.
"We had some unfortunate things happen through some injuries, and there were some games we didn't play very well," the Raider coach said reflectively on Monday. "We felt like if we could get everybody healthy and get going, we'd have a shot at being pretty good.
"Thank goodness the kids hung in there because when you lose a game around here it's like the end of the world, the sky's falling. I credit our kids for staying in there while things were tough."
An estimated 1,000 fans followed the Patriots to Rockingham for last October's game on a rainy night. Just two years after trailing the Raiders 59-0 at halftime on the same field, Damien Decatur and Jamel Verbal each scored two touchdowns as the Patriots rolled for 280 yards on the ground.
The thrilling upset was finalized when time ran out before the Raiders could spike the ball to set up a game-tying field goal.
The only other Pinecrest win over Richmond in the long history between the teams was 27-26 in 1992, also in Rockingham.
"I don't know if it was a shock to our kids, but I know it wasn't a shock to our coaching staff," Hoggard recalled. "We knew what Pinecrest had and that we were going to have to play well to win."
Boasting an offense that has averaged 37 points per game against the seventh-toughest schedule in the state (Massey Ratings), Richmond will again go into Friday's game as the clear favorite. Its only loss was 38-31 to No. 1-ranked Matthews Butler on Sept. 11.
Pinecrest is 8-1 for the first time in the 40-year history of the school. The only other time the Patriots won as many as eight games was in 1987, when the squad coached by Burgin Beale finished 8-4. That was also the only year the Patriots won a state playoff game (over E.E. Smith).
In his third year as the head coach at Richmond and 11th in the Raider program, Hoggard has watched the Pinecrest program improve under Metzger's leadership.
"It's amazing how much better they've gotten year after year," he said. "They're as good as anybody we've played. They've got good skilled kids on the field, and they've got strong kids on the field so you can tell they're being coached really well, and they've been in the weight room."
I couldn't help kidding the Richmond coach that Raider fans that usually overflow the visitors' side and move into the home stands when they come to Pinecrest might find seating a little harder to come by this time around.
A smart move for fans of both sides might be to purchase tickets in advance online at www.pinecresthigh school.ticketleap.com. Ticket gates will be open at 6 p.m. and persons with prepurchased tickets may enter through the pass gate (baseball field entrance) with little or no waiting.
Contact Charlie Bergmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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