ROCKINGHAM – If any message is clear coming out of the Richmond Senior High School varsity football team’s locker room this week, it’s that the Raiders are thankful for the opportunity to play another week into November. And they’re ready to do some damage on the football field.
And that opportunity will take place this Friday night at Raider Stadium, as the No. 8 Raiders are set to host the No. 9-seeded North Mecklenburg High School Vikings from Huntersville, N.C.
Richmond earned an automatic bid into the state 4AA playoffs following its second-place finish in the Sandhills Athletic Conference this season.
Earlier this week, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association released not one, but two playoff brackets following the final regular season round of games. The initial bracket release was done prematurely, as the NCHSAA didn’t use the most up-to-date MaxPreps rankings.
Now with the final brackets set, the Raiders (7-4) have found themselves go from an initial No. 5 seed in the East Bracket to a final placement as a No. 8 seed in the West Bracket against North Mecklenburg (8-3).
Head coach Bryan Till expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to be able to play in the postseason, as he more than well thinks his players have earned the right to do so; which they have. But Till acknowledged that the current playoff system needs a “revamping,” as there seems to be a flaw in the way teams are seeded despite overall records, strength of schedule, and Till noted that losses shouldn’t be as significant as wins when being considered.
Here’s what happened this season:
The NCHSAA realized shortly after posting its initial playoff brackets that the wrong information was used. Within a couple hours, the current brackets were released. In the first bracket, Richmond was nestled in as a No. 5 seed and was scheduled to play No. 12 Emsley A. Laney High School at home. This would have also given Richmond the opportunity, with a win, to travel to Garner High School in the second round. But that possible situation was soon dashed.
According to Till, there are 48 teams that make the 4A state playoffs. Those 48 team are then split in half to make a 4A and 4AA bracket. Richmond, being a school with a larger student body, was placed in the 4AA format in the initial and final playoff brackets. Following the 48-team split, teams are then seeded into East and West brackets based on the geographical location of their schools.
At this point, all is still well and good. But the problem arose for Richmond when the NCHSAA updated the playoff brackets based on the most current MaxPreps rankings. The most recent model saw two schools slip out of the top 48 teams, and were replaced by two other schools not previously included in the initial bracket release.
With the addition of these two teams, Richmond was then bumped into the West Bracket (based on its location relative to the other schools), thus placing them in the same bracket as No. 1 Mallard Creek High School and No. 3 David W. Butler High School. Richmond lost to the latter of the two 27-21 on September 8. If Richmond were to defeat North Mecklenburg in the opening round, the Raiders would travel to Mallard Creek in the second round.
Because of being moved from East to West, and among other factors, Richmond lost its No. 5 seed. The Raiders are still the highest-ranked No. 2 team in their bracket. To make the point of how flawed this system is, South Caldwell High School (Hudson, N.C.) got a No. 1 seed and an opening-round bye in the 4A bracket despite going 1-10 this season.
Also, Pinecrest High School, which Richmond defeated head-to-head earlier in the season, got a No. 6 seed in the East Bracket. For a more comprehensive explanation of how the Raiders got to this point in the playoff bracket, read Deon Cranford’s RO exclusive story.
But let’s get back to North Mecklenburg and what Till and the Raiders are expecting to do Friday night.
The Vikings, who play in the I-Meck 4A Conference, will enter Raider Stadium under the direction of one of Richmond’s own former players. Head coach Eric Morman, who played for the Raiders roughly 12 seasons ago, has helped turn the North Mecklenburg program around. Playing against tough teams like No. 1 seed Mallard Creek, the Vikings have had to earn tough wins all season.
“Coach Morman has done really good with resurrecting that program,” Till noted. “They’re in a tough conference and play a lot of quality teams. They lost to Mallard Creek, one of the top teams in the state, by only nine points. That tells you how good they can be.”
Till also said the Vikings run a very similar offense to the Raiders, and have a couple of “stud” playmakers in junior quarterback Aaron Scott and senior tailback Emanuel Wilson. Scott has played in 10 games this season, going 110-of-184 for 1,538 passing yards and 14 touchdowns. Out of the backfield, Wilson has amassed 1,645 yards on 185 carries, scoring 20 times.
“We’re going about the same process to prepare for North Mecklenburg,” Till said. “We’re watching what film we’re able to find, but our guys have worked all year for this. Come Friday, we’ll be good to go.”
And what Richmond accomplished in its loss to Scotland High School the week before shouldn’t be forgotten, as racking up 47 points serves as a great confidence boost heading into the playoffs. The team’s offense racked up 570 yards of total offense, as freshman quarterback Caleb Hood completed 24 passes (tied school record) for 423 yards (second most in school history) and threw four touchdowns to three different receivers.
Hoping to have big performances against the Vikings are senior tailback Dante Miller and senior wide receiver Da’Shaun Wallace. Miller had 124 yards rushing and three rushing touchdowns, while Wallace had seven catches for 131 yards and two receiving touchdowns in the SAC title game loss to Scotland. Both hope that a run for a state title is in their future, as each game could be their final one in green and gold.
“The team as a whole needs to play better than we did at Scotland,” Wallace said in his Official Richmond County Athlete of the Week interview. “We also need to do better in practice. Practice determines how well we’re going to do in the game.
“We’re going to win against North Mecklenburg,” Wallace said with a confident smile.
Till has been adamant all season about Raiders fans filling the seats on Friday nights, noting that his players feed off of that momentum and energy. This Friday night is the biggest stage this season, and that energy is needed now more than ever. Kickoff against the Vikings is set for 7:30 p.m.