The football season may not have ended the way Richland wanted it to, but the Rams certainly have no reason to hang their heads.
Richland ran into a buzzsaw Friday night against Southern Columbia in the PIAA Class AA semifinal round in Selinsgrove, falling to the powerhouse team from Catawissa 49-27.
The Tigers (15-0), ranked first in the state and second in the nation, have now won 47 straight games and will play for their 10th PIAA title and third in a row when they face Avonworth on Friday at Hersheypark Stadium. It was Richland’s second appearance in the PIAA semifinal round, with the first coming in 2012.
Boasting a talented roster that includes four Big Ten recruits, including ESPN’s top-ranked player Julian Fleming, Southern Columbia built a 49-7 halftime lead over the Rams.
“We talked about the fact that we probably aren’t going to be able to come back and win the game, but we want to come out and play hard, play all 24 minutes, and play with class,” Richland coach Brandon Bailey said.
“At halftime we told the kids, ‘This is your last game for you seniors. We’re going to play hard and play to the end.’ I kept my word and allowed those guys to continue to play. I’m proud of them for not giving up.”
The Rams showed plenty of fight in the second half. In addition to holding Southern Columbia scoreless in the second half, Richland scored 20 points in the fourth quarter to set the final margin. Southern Columbia entered the contest allowing only 3.4 points per game.
“We kept playing hard,” Richland senior Caleb Burke said.
“That’s the most important part. Nobody said, ‘Oh well, we’re down. Let’s just get off the field.’ We kept pushing through and kept playing. We wanted to finish out our season on a bang.”
Added senior Lucas Sabol: “This means everything. It’s been a long time since this program has something special like this. I don’t think anyone is going to forget. This season meant everything to me and I hope it meant everything to everyone else.”
Richland’s seniors have definitely done their share to put the school’s program on the map.
The Rams went 13-1 in each of the past two seasons with a pair of Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference and District 6 Class AA championships along the way. All this came after four straight losing seasons.
“It’s really gratifying. The seniors struggled as freshmen and sophomores, and we weren’t able to get over the hump and get into the playoffs,” Bailey said.
“I’m really proud of how their last two seasons went, being conference champs, district champs and having undefeated regular seasons.”
Congratulations to the Rams for a fantastic season, and to the seniors for setting the standard for the program moving forward.
Richland’s successful playoff run is a fitting cap to a memorable high school football season in the region.