Raleigh is deceptively better than its overall record reflects, especially in comparison to how the Lions finished in Region 6-3A, and what games they were able to win.
"It was a big deal to finish the season in the way that we did," said Raleigh head coach Chad Collums. "It was a frustrating season early on. We played some really good teams early - Taylorsville, Scott Central, Bay Springs, and Northeast Jones. But once we got into region play, our kids kept grinding and did what they had to do."
Last Friday night, Raleigh (5-5) added another game to its win column, defeating Velma Jackson (6-4) 28-21 at home in both team's regular-season finale. Despite a three-way tie of 4-1 in 6-3A, the Lions finished third due to points spread and results against the higher-seeded opponent. What was unfortunate? Even with its win over Velma Jackson, Raleigh finished one-seed below the Falcons ahead of this Friday night's playoffs.
"Beating the teams that we did, it was sweet to end the regular-season like we did and get into the playoffs," added Collums. "With some of the things that happened to us earlier in the season, beating Velma Jackson was big."
Raleigh also pulled an upset over Crystal Springs in 6-3A, who at the time was 5-0. Crystal Springs finished the 7-3 and missed the playoffs because of its loss to Raleigh.
The defense kept Raleigh competitive early in the season, but the team's offensive struggles kept them below .500. Then came the turnaround.
“Early on, defensively, we were doing pretty good,” said Collums. “Offensively, we had some young guys playing in key positions that needed growing up. The turning point [in the season] was getting the offense going.”
It led to a 4-1 finish in Raleigh's final five games of the regular season and a playoff berth. The Lions play Kemper County (3-7) on the road Friday night in round one of the MHSAA Class 3A playoffs. Kemper County is no stranger to the folks in Raleigh, according to Collums.
"Kemper County is a well-know team around here," Collums mentioned. "A few years ago, we played them here for South State. A lot of people around here haven't forgotten about that, and they're excited for us to get a second chance at them."
Kemper County defeated Raleigh 28-20 in the 2016 playoffs. Coming into the 3A South State Championship, Raleigh was 13-1 and led by then-junior standout Kris Moncrief, cousin to former Raleigh and Ole Miss standout Donte Moncrief. Kris rushed for nearly 2,000 yards in 2016, and now plays linebacker for the University of Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns. Donte is currently a wide receiver in the NFL for the Carolina Panthers.
What Collums had to say about Friday night’s matchup vs. Kemper County:
“They’re a good team and well-coached team. It will be a challenge, but I think it will be one that we’ll be ready for.”