Richmond Raiders host Trenton Freedom on Saturday

RichmondRaidersSometimes during a football season, a scheduled week off can interrupt momentum and serve as a distraction. That was not the case for the Richmond Raiders, who entered their first off week of the 2014 season at 1-3, needing some time to regroup and re-evaluate. The results of those reflections will be on display Saturday when the team travels to Trenton, NJ to face the 2-2 Freedom. A win would pull the Raiders into a tie with the Freedom in the National Conference standings, while Trenton will try to replicate the result of the season opener.

Before the off week, the Raiders dropped a 48-27 decision to the Harrisburg Stampede. Two first quarter interceptions helped the Stampede build a 28-1 lead before Preston Hines blocked a field goal to set the Raiders up on the Stampede one yard line and score their first touchdown. The defense forced seven field goal attempts, but the offense didn’t really get going until the second half, when they scored two straight times to cut the deficit to 11. But the Stampede righted the ship, capitalized on a Raiders fumble, and controlled the game down the stretch to improve to 2-1.

The Freedom have successfully defended their red home turf, going 2-0 so far in the new jersey state capital. They have fared less well on the road, registering an 0-2 mark with both losses coming to Lehigh Valley, including a 42-36 decision last week. Trenton built an early lead but trailed by four at halftime. They closed the third quarter with a touchdown, a pick-six, and a stop to claim a one point lead. The fourth quarter turned on the leg of SteelHawks kicker Mike Barnard, whose two field goals and one uno proved decisive. Freedom quarterback Warren Smith threw a costly interception, and the game ended on two straight Smith incompletions from the Lehigh Valley six yard line.

In the teams’ first meeting, the Freedom looked like anything but an expansion team making its franchise debut. Smith threw more touchdowns (four) than incomplete passes (three) and added two rushing scores, as Trenton scored the first 34 points of the game and cruised to a 52-17 win. The Raiders committed turnovers on their first two possessions. Special teams gave the Raiders a late spark, with a blocked PAT returned for two points and two long kickoff returns by Scooby Bryant setting up short field touchdowns.

As the Raiders’ starting quarterback last season, Smith is a known quantity to head coach James Fuller. But the rest of the Freedom squad remained a mystery before the season opener. “We have film on them now,” Fuller said, “and we know what they like to do in certain situations with certain personnel.” Two keys for the Raiders will be pressuring Smith and forcing the Freedom to settle for field goals. The Raiders lead the league in sacks and are second in red zone defense, while the Freedom are second in red zone offense. The Raiders have been outscored 47-7 in the first quarter this season, and must avoid falling too far behind early in order to keep pace with the Freedom offense that’s averaging over 50 points per game.

Following the game, the Raiders will have another off week before a rematch with Trenton in Richmond on May 17. Tickets for all remaining home games start as low as $7, and are available on the Raiders’ website, www.RichmondRaidersProFootball.com, or by calling 1-855-GO-RAIDERS or 804-780-0430. Additionally, fans can contact the Richmond Coliseum box office or visit ticketmaster.com.

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