Saturday, 17 April 2021 00:40

Coleman, Tillman lead aggressive rushing attack as No. 4 Richmond ousts No. 5 Middle Creek

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Senior C.J. Tillman, who finished with a rushing score and an interception, splits a pair of Middle Creek defenders during Friday's playoff win. Senior C.J. Tillman, who finished with a rushing score and an interception, splits a pair of Middle Creek defenders during Friday's playoff win. Kyle Pillar — Sports Editor.

ROCKINGHAM — Prior to Friday’s opening round 4A state playoff game, there was the question of how long it would take the Richmond Raiders to knock the rust off after not playing for three weeks.

The Raider offense answered it by scoring its first touchdown two plays and 40 seconds into the game, setting the tempo early. The No. 4 Raiders cruised past No. 5 Middle Creek High School 51-27.

In the first ever meeting of the two programs, Richmond used a balanced offensive attack to score seven touchdowns and a field goal.

The 51 points scored were the most by the Raiders in a playoff game since tallying 49 points against Reagan High School in the second round of the 2018 playoffs. 

“It was a fast start for our offense, but then (Middle Creek) came back (on the next drive),” head coach Bryan Till said. “We just had to keep playing and mixing coverages, and we went to running the ball more because it helped us on defense.

“We made plays, but the important thing is we didn’t make mistakes,” he added. “When you’re a good football team that makes plays and doesn’t make mistakes, it doesn’t mean you win games as much as you don’t lose them. We did a little bit of both tonight.”

Behind the powerful duo of senior running backs Jaron Coleman and C.J. Tillman, the Raiders amassed a season-high 345 total rushing yards and crossed into the end zone four times on the ground. 

Coleman had a career-high 237 rushing yards on 24 carries (9.88 yards per touch), scoring two touchdowns.

Tillman, who also had an impressive night on defense with an interception, carried the ball 10 times for 115 yards (11.5 yards per carry) and scored once.

Senior RB Jaron Coleman scores the first of his two rushing scores early in the first quarter.

“They are both really good backs, and C.J. could be a next-level back with his size, speed and vision,” offensive coordinator Brad Denson said. “Jaron has been rolling the last couple of games and he had over 200 yards. They’re a great one-two punch.

“We also pieced together some things on offense, and a lot of guys did so good learning all of the positions in case we ran into some issues,” he added. 

After senior wideout Tremel Jones took the opening kickoff back 30 yards to the Richmond 37-yard line, junior quarterback Kellan Hood connected with senior wide receiver Dalton Stroman for a 48-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage.

On the next play from the Mustangs’ 15-yard line, Coleman took a handoff and found the end zone down the left side for his first score. Richmond led 6-0 with 11:40 to play in the opening quarter.

Middle Creek and quarterback Chad Kearns answered with a five-play, 78-yard scoring drive on their first possession. Kearns, who was 24-of-49 with 406 passing yards, hit Tharius Suggs on a 22-yard touchdown pass, the first of his four passing scores.

Following a successful PAT, Middle Creek held a 7-6 lead, its only advantage of the game.

The Raiders regained the lead on the ensuing drive, using a Mack West 33-yard field goal to jump ahead 9-7 with 6:55 left in the opening stanza. Stroman set up the field goal with a 33-yard catch and run off a screen, one of his team-high six receptions.

Middle Creek’s offense responded by picking up the tempo and running a hurry-up offense. But the Raiders’ defense countered, using a pass break up from junior cornerback Jamari Broady on Suggs and a third-down stop from lineman Kaleel Brown.

On fourth-and-one from the Richmond 23-yard line, Tillman and a host of Raiders stuffed running back Dorien Stewart for a turnover on downs.

Junior CB Jamari Broady (21) breaks up a pass against Tharius Suggs (5) in the first quarter.

“We practiced it all week, and our kids adjusted as they played,” Till said of slowing down the no-huddle offense. “The kids had to play more earnest, and Coach (James) Johnson was getting them set. Plus, Middle Creek gassed themselves and had to slow down a little bit.”

After the first quarter, Richmond led 9-7, but Coleman shifted the game’s momentum for good two drives later. Finding a hole in the line, Coleman burst ahead for a 52-yard touchdown run up the middle of the field. West added the PAT and Richmond led 16-7 with 8:50 to play in the first half.

Another Middle Creek turnover on downs, this time at the Mustangs’ 43-yard line, gave Richmond a short field and led to another score. 

Taking just six plays to paydirt, Hood threw the first of his three touchdown passes, this one a 10-yard screen to Jones in the right flat. With 4:16 to play before the break, Richmond extended its lead to 23-7.

Hood finished the game 9-of-13 through the air for 133 passing yards, with three passes of 20 yards or more. His longest pass of the game was the first play of the game to Stroman.

“It was a good team effort and everyone played their part,” Hood said. “We started fast on offense, and then the defense picked it up really well. I’m really proud of the team.

“The offensive line did a great job protecting and it felt like I had forever in the pocket,” he explained. “The running backs did well hitting the holes and our receivers ran great routes and caught the ball.”

Junior nose tackle J.D. Lampely helped force a punt on Middle Creek’s next drive, getting into the backfield on second down and swatting away a Kearns pass attempt. To close the first half, junior cornerback Cason Douglas intercepted a pass near the end zone, the first of Richmond’s two picks in the win.

During halftime, a special presentation was held to honor six former Raider football icons who passed away this year. With family members recognized on the field, they were presented with flowers and a football helmet signed by the team.

Those honored were former coaches Charlie Bishop, Ray Entwistle, Ron Krall and Jason Norton; Don Paul, who was an EMT at Raider games since 2008; and longtime super fan Pastor Ricky Jacobs.

Out of the break, Richmond scored on its first possession after forcing a Mustangs punt. Back-to-back runs from Tillman set up a 30-yard passing score from Hood to Jones down the right sideline.

Senior WR Tremel Jones (1) makes a touchdown grab in the second half of Friday’s win.

Five plays later, Tillman intercepted a Kearns pass and gave the Raiders the ball back at the Middle Creek 47-yard line. A series of runs from Coleman and Tillman moved Richmond to the one-yard line, where Hood capped the six-play drive with a rushing score on a scramble to his left.

With the score, the Raiders held a 30-point lead, 37-7, with 6:19 left in the third stanza.

“I knew we had some guys out tonight, so being a senior I wanted to step up and be a leader,” Tillman said. “There was no question about it —I just did what I had to do. It was cool to play both sides of the ball and do what I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid.

“On the interception, I was supposed to blitz, but I saw (Kearns) roll out to his right,” he added. “So I just played off and played the crosser coming back, and I was there to pick it.” 

Middle Creek answered with a nine-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in Kearns finding Kyle Ihle for a five-yard passing score. It was the first of three straight possessions the Mustangs would find the end zone to make a late push.

Hood’s final passing score came on Richmond’s next drive, capping a 13-play, 80-yard drive that ate up 6:13 of the game clock. On third-and-six, Hood hit Stroman on a slant route over the middle from 12 yards out to make it 44-14.

“Tremel and Dalton are playmakers and we tried to present those guys with some one-on-one issues to get them going,” Denson said of picking apart a Middle Creek (6-2) defense that allowed just 8.57 points per game in the regular season. 

“We got those tonight and we were able to capitalize on that, while still being able to run the ball. It was a pretty balanced effort from our offense.”

Kearns closed the gap with a 16-yard passing score to Ihle on the next drive, and after a Richmond punt, Kearns hit Adam Booker for an 88-yard catch and run to cut the deficit to 44-27.

Senior K Mack West watches as his 33-yard field goal sails through the uprights.

With 4:20 left in the game, four straight rushes from Coleman put the Raiders at the Middle Creek 21-yard line, and Tillman put the exclamation point on the win with a rushing score on the next play.

“The secondary had a big game,” Till said of Richmond’s defensive backs. “For the number of times (Middle Creek) threw the football, and for our guys to keep playing, I was really pleased with how well they held up.”

Richmond’s defense recorded one quarterback sack and added five tackles for loss.

The Raiders finished with 478 yards of total offense, while the Mustangs collected 420 yards of offense. The Raider defense shut down the rushing attack, holding Middle Creek to just 14 yards on 20 attempts.

Stroman caught six of his eight targets for 94 yards and a score, while Jones collected 39 receiving yards on three grabs to go with his two scores. Suggs and Booker finished with 142 and 122 receiving yards, respectively.

The No. 4 Raiders (4-0) will travel to No. 1 Cardinal Gibbons High School (7-0) next Friday for the second round. In 2019, the two teams played at Cardinal Gibbons, ending in a 45-28 win for the Raiders.

In their first-round game, the Crusaders defeated No. 8 Pine Forest High School 49-7.

The Richmond Observer will continue its postseason coverage with a full preview later in the week.

Kyle Pillar

Nine-time N.C. Press Association award-winning sports editor. Indiana University of Pennsylvania communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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