It looked like Raleigh had a strong and undefeated Magee team in the right place with a minute left in the second quarter during its third round, 3A South playoff bout with the visiting Trojans Friday night. But, things quickly took a turn just before time expired in the first half, and first-year head coach Ryan Higdon's Lions team just couldn't rebound in the second half and eventually suffered a 35-0 season-ending loss.
With a minute remaining in the first half and only trailing the Trojans 6-0, Raleigh's Allen Fortenberry and Damond Keyes dropped Magee quarterback Chandler Pittman on a sack to force a third-and-long from midfield. Pittman, however, calmly went right back to work and connected with Xavier Franks at Raleigh's 15-yard-line with 24 seconds left in the half. He soon after zipped an 8-yard strike to Franks in the front corner of the endzone with ll seconds left to push Magee's advantage to 14-0, following a 2-point conversion completion to Jaylen Floyd.
Higdon's team never threw in the towel until the final buzzer sounded, but the late first half score did its damage.
“We played a great football team tonight; a team that has (recently) been to the third round before, and they kind of knew what they were getting in to. This is kind of new for our guys. This is definitely going to be a learning and a building experience for us,” Higdon said following the game.
The Lions, a team that produced 431 rushing yards (471 total) last week against Forest in the second round, struggled offensively all night long against Magee, appeared jittery early in the game with several drive-halting penalties while positively producing, and later took only just over 125 total yards into the fourth quarter against the Trojans. Raleigh finished the game with 183 total yards and gave up 380 total to Magee, 224 yards through the air.
Things looked bright for Raleigh early in the game with running backs Suntarine Perkins, Margro Perkins, and Javarious Walker galloping hard on its first two possessions of the game. Higdon's team drove with its ground game on the opening possession of the contest to Magee's 37-yard line and ate up half the quarter, but two penalties punched Raleigh backwards, and the drive ended with a turnover on downs. Raleigh's defense stood tall throughout the first quarter and into the second, but near midway through the second quarter with diminishing offensive production against a stout and fast Trojans defense eventually gave up a 21-yard touchdown pass when Pittman hit a receiver with 7:28 left in the second quarter to put the first points on the scoreboard.
The Trojans later took its 14-0 lead into halftime after the late, second quarter touchdown and 2-point conversion, and Magee seemed to have all-but sealed the deal on the opening drive of the second half. Pittman connected with several receivers during the opening possession during a 65-yard drive that culminated with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Kyerston Tucker that pushed the cushion to 21-0. Magee went on to pad the score with a rushing touchdown late in the third quarter and another running trip to the endzone in the fourth quarter with 2:50 remaining in the game.
Suntarine Perkins led Raleigh's hard-hit offensive effort with 51 yards on 11 rushes. Javarious Walker produced 43 yards on 10 carries for the Lions.
It's hard for any coach and team to take a loss, especially late in the post-season, but Higdon said he is extremely proud of his team, notably his seniors. He only met the entire group in June during an introduction at the school's baseball bleachers. They later found themselves as a force in region play and in the latter rounds of the 3A playoffs. He is energetically looking forward to getting back to the drawing board with a load of tools coming back next year and with youth that is up-and-coming at Raleigh.
“Our kids have come a long way to be here (third round) from where we started to where we are now. These guys grew up. We had a group of seniors that bought in and did everything I asked them to do… every week. They weren't used to doing some of the things we did, but they learned it, got the routine, and did a tremendous job. We had a really good group of seniors. You know, sometimes when a new coach comes in, seniors kind of rebel or push back, but these guys bought in, and that's what got us here. I'm a firm believer that a football team is only as good as your seniors, and we made it to the third round against good competition in a very competitive classification. We beat some good football teams this season, and we got beat by a good football team tonight,” he explained. “But, they didn't quit, and they kept fighting.
“The future is pretty bright for us. We have some good classes coming up in the seventh and eighth grade too. Those kids we are going to get in the weight room after Thanksgiving, and we are going to get back at it. We are going to start grinding, and get ready for next year. They got a taste of it tonight to see what it's like playing in this kind of atmosphere and this high level. This is a high level, and for many of them, it's something they haven't experienced. When you get to this time of the year, you have to be playing your best football; you cannot take a step back, and you cannot slip. Our guys got a taste of it, and hopefully that's going to make them hungry. We are going to get in the weight room, and we are going to get ready for 2021.”
The Lions ended the season 8-4 overall. Magee (10-0) will face Columbia (10-2) for the 3A South State Championship next Friday night. Columbia defeated West Marion 18-13 Friday night to advance.