Saturday, 30 November 2019 17:10

Pillar: Richmond football, Raider Magic are back

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Linebacker Jah'meek Harden (25) sacks quarterback Drake Maye in the first half of Friday's 35-32 win. Linebacker Jah'meek Harden (25) sacks quarterback Drake Maye in the first half of Friday's 35-32 win. Jimmy McDonald — The Richmond Observer.

I know this shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of the thousands of Richmond, or maybe even Myers Park, football fans at Friday’s game, but Richmond football and Raider Magic are alive and well.

In my third school year covering Richmond Senior High School athletics, I can say without hesitation that Richmond’s 35-32 win was the most electric and most community-based sporting event I’ve had the privilege of reporting on in Richmond County or elsewhere.

From the pre-game fireworks, to quarterback Caleb Hood’s 73-yard rushing score on the third play of the game, to the state-championship quality of play by both teams and fan support -- it was one for the books.

I’ve been around the sidelines of high school athletics in big cities and small towns and nothing compares to what I witnessed Friday. It was something right out of a Hollywood script or a novel where the small-town team overcomes adversity and puts together enough heart, grit and skill to beat its opponent.

We’ve seen it before in movies like “Remember the Titans.” Or take H.G. Bissinger’s iconic non-fiction novel “Friday Night Lights,” which paints the picture of how high school football transforms a west Texas town, a lot like how the Raiders do a rural Sandhills community.

These matchups often seem romanticized for the viewer’s or reader’s pleasure. But that’s not the case following the No. 1 Raiders’ victory over No. 4 Myers Park during the third round of the state playoffs -- Raider Magic was real and almost tangible, and that’s something I can promise you.

Despite earning the No. 1 seed in a very tough and formidable 4AA West region, the Raiders and head coach Bryan Till haven’t been given the credit normally associated with that ranking. 

And I’m not talking about local media or fans. I understand that teams have to prove themselves, especially in the playoffs. And following Friday’s win over the Mustangs, I believe the Raiders have cemented themselves into a position worthy of praise as championship-caliber football team.

If you’ve noticed, the more the Raiders win, the more coverage they get. And the more coverage they get, the more closely watched and scrutinized they are by others from across the state. Be assured there was no upset win in Rockingham on Friday -- because the better of the two teams won.

The Raiders and Till haven’t been shy about the fact they wanted a shot at redemption, and they handled the pressure of playing the Mustangs with the poise of a program built on a winning tradition. Let the play of Friday’s win speak for itself.

And what I like most is that Richmond County never doubted its team for a second. That’s Raider Magic coursing at full speed.

It’s been a three-year process under Till to get Richmond back to its first regional championship since 2008, but the pieces are starting to fall into place and stay.

For most of the first half during Friday’s game, Myers Park was in control. A 21-13 halftime deficit wasn’t the be-all, end-all for the Raiders either. And there were two things that were constant regardless of the score -- the team’s belief in itself and Richmond County’s fans’ belief in their football team.

I, along with all sideline reporters, are in a unique position every game we cover. I can hear and see up close the conversations between coaches and players making in-game adjustments, smiling in times of triumph or talking strategy while analyzing film on an iPad or TV screen.

Or I can turn around and see the flicker of green LED lights and cell phones lit up, and hear thousands of Raider fans on their feet yelling, rattling cowbells or whatever noisemakers they have. And if I’m lucky, I’ll see offensive coordinator Brad Denson standing on the team’s golf cart getting the fans pumped up.

Back to the game: cue Hood and wide receiver Jakolbe Baldwin, running backs Jaheim Covington and Jaron Coleman, a protective offensive line, linebackers Gavin Russell, CJ Tillman and Dre Bethea, defensive backs Zyier Baldwin and Dereck Barringer and a stout defensive line that provided an aggressive pass rush in the second half.

A 22-point second half by the Raiders brought the magic alive on the field, propelling the team to its 13th win of the season. Following the game, an overflow of community support by family members, teachers, business owners, friends -- and the list goes on -- filled the field to the point where Till’s postgame speech became a public event.

I don’t know more than the next person if the Raiders will beat No. 10 Vance High School in the regional round, or win the 2019 4AA state championship. But what I do know is that the Raiders are a serious contender and should be treated as such. 

I’ll see Raider Nation on Friday when Richmond welcomes in the reigning regional champs and I expect Raider Magic to be back again in full force. Bring your cowbells.

Last modified on Saturday, 30 November 2019 18:12

Kyle Pillar

Three-time award-winning sports editor. Indiana University of Pennsylvania communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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