ROCKINGHAM – With the weight of the North Carolina 4AA state playoffs lingering over Richmond County this week, sports contributor Deon Cranford offers an exclusive look into the Raiders’ playoff history.
Cranford also explains the current playoff system and how it affected Richmond Senior High School’s No. 8 ranking in the 2017 playoffs.
Richmond Playoff History
On Friday night, the Richmond varsity football program will enter postseason play for the 23rd consecutive year and the 40th time in just 46 attempts. The Raiders earned a No. 8 seed in the 4AA West after finishing second in the inaugural season of the Sandhills Athletic Conference (SAC8).
The Raiders have a tough challenge ahead of them when they face North Mecklenburg (8-3) at Raider Stadium on Friday night. However, history favors the Raiders in round one. Richmond has only lost in the first round of the playoffs six times in its 39 playoff appearances, with only one of those losses occurring in the past two decades. The Raiders have played in eight state title games, 14 regional title games, and have advanced past the second round 25 times.
Richmond vs North Mecklenburg History
Richmond and North Mecklenburg have only crossed paths once before. The Raiders defeated the Vikings 21-3 in the second round of the 2005 playoffs, but the circumstances then were much different. Following an undefeated regular season, Richmond entered the 2005 playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the west and also ranked as the top team in the AP Poll. On the roster, they had one of the most explosive offensive players and one of the hardest hitting defensive players in school history.
Running back Norman Whitley shattered the record books in 2005 when he broke the school record for consecutive games rushing over 100 yards (15) and average rushing yards per game (155). At the conclusion of that season, he ended his career with a school record 5,470 rushing yards. Against North Mecklenburg, he contributed 162 yards on 18 carries and scored one of the team’s three touchdowns. His big runs put the Raiders inside the 10-yard line on two other occasions which ultimately led to the other Raider scores.
The 2005 Raider defense featured Melvin Ingram, someone who is still hitting the gridiron in 2017. Ingram is currently an outside linebacker for the Los Angeles Chargers. In just eight games this season, he has racked up 8.5 sacks, forced a fumble, and has contributed to 32 total tackles putting himself in the discussion for AFC Defensive Player of the Year.
In 2005, Ingram, along with players like linebacker Antonio Covington, defensive backs Darius Brewington, Joey Cook, Kevin Nicholson and the rest of the Richmond defensive unit only allowed 6.8 points per game heading into their game with North Mecklenburg. The Raider defense limited the Vikings to a field goal on the game’s opening drive and North Mecklenburg never scored again.
The current Vikings coaching staff is no stranger to the Richmond Raiders. North Mecklenburg head coach Eric Morman played football at Richmond, and would have been in school around the time that Richmond and North Mecklenburg played in 2005. Current offensive line and strength coach William Fly left Richmond to coach the Vikings earlier this year.
East or West?
Geographically, the Raiders are in “no-man’s land” when it comes to the NCHSAA playoffs. They have participated as an East team 22 times, and this season marks their 18th time participating in the West. Typically, Raider Nation prefers their team to wind up in the east, but historically Richmond has been pretty consistent on both sides of the bracket.
The Raiders are 84-31 all-time in the playoffs – earning 46 victories and 4 state titles as an Eastern team, and 38 wins and 3 titles as a Western team. That averages out to a little over two postseason wins per appearance for Richmond in both the east and west brackets.
The bouncing around from West to East is affected both by Richmond County being physically located near the middle of the state, as well as the constant altering of the seeding process by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA). These changes in the seeding process have caused Richmond some post season aggravation over the years.
Recently, the NCHSAA’s goals of reducing travel distances resulted in a pod system which often led to higher-ranked teams playing in early rounds. When this system was first attempted, Richmond typically found itself in an extremely loaded Midwest pod that included schools like Butler, Independence, Providence, Page, and Northwest Guilford – all of which were playing really well at the time. Last year’s attempt at a pod system bit the Raiders once again, but in a different way. Richmond, who finished second in the Southeastern Conference, received a lower seed than Pinecrest which finished third in the SEC. This was because the Raiders and Patriots were simply placed in different pods.
This season brought a whole new look to the seeding process, but the Raiders did not fare any better with this format, as they received an eight seed in an extremely strong section of the West bracket.
2017 Seeding Process Explanation
Along with yet another change in the seeding process, a lot of changes came with the beginning of the 2017 fall sports season. Conferences were realigned and a few officiating changes were made, but the biggest change was the implementation of the 20-30-30-20 model. This model places the 20 percent of schools with the most students into the 4A division, the 20 percent of schools with the fewest students into the 1A division, and then divides the other 60 percent up into 2A and 3A based on size. With 1A and 4A now having fewer member schools, only 48 (previously 64) teams now participate in post season play in those divisions.
Since the playoffs are still subdivided, 24 teams will compete for the 4AA title, and 24 teams will vie for the 4A championship. The top four seeds in each half of the bracket receive a first-round bye.
Automatic qualifiers are first determined by the conference size. An eight-team conference like the SAC8 receives two automatic qualifiers. Since Scotland and Richmond finished first and second respectively, they were both guaranteed a playoff spot.
Once the automatic qualifiers are accounted for, the remaining teams are selected based on their MaxPreps ranking, not their win percentage. The NCHSAA has expressed confidence in the formulas and massive data collection involved in the MaxPreps rankings and they feel that this process will be fairer to those bubble teams who lose a few games while playing a stronger schedule rather than rewarding teams who win games against a weaker one.
According to the NCHSAA website:
“MaxPreps has been publishing rankings for nearly 15 years and uses data collected from well over one million games across multiple sports. The accuracy of MaxPreps’ rankings is attributed to the overwhelming volume of data collected that goes into the rankings.
“While traditional RPI or Power-Points systems only measure opponents and their opponents, which amounts to only 110 scores over a typical 10-game schedule, MaxPreps can utilize thousands of scores connected to that same team. Due to the exponential amount of games at the high school level, along with the drastic talent level difference, it is important to utilize as many game results as possible to improve upon where other rankings methodologies might fall short. This ultimately allows MaxPreps to connect all teams from coast-to-coast based upon unbiased data from each team.”
Once all available playoff spots in a division are filled, the teams are then divided evenly between the West and East based on the longitude of their schools. Based on longitude, Richmond was the last team in this year’s 4AA bracket to go west.
No. 1 Mallard Creek (11-0), No. 2 West Forsyth (11-0), No. 3 Butler (8-2), and No. 4 Page (10-1) received the top four spots and a first round bye in the 4AA West. They were seeded first because they were the only conference champions in that half of the bracket, and were seeded in that order because of their MaxPreps rankings.
No. 5 Providence (8-3), No. 6 Myers Park (10-1), No. 7 Hough (8-3), and No. 8 Richmond (7-4) all finished second in their conferences and were seeded in that order based on the MaxPreps rankings.
North Mecklenburg (8-3), Ardrey Kell (3-8), East Mecklenburg (5-6), and South Mecklenburg (2-9) take the remaining spots in the 4AA West based on their MaxPreps rankings.