Comeback kings end season with title

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- After Richmond Senior High of Rockingham, N.C., upgraded its status from North Carolina 4AA title contender to football god with its 38-35 win over Jack Britt (Fayetteville) on Sunday, quarterback Tedarrius Wiley and receiver Gabe Love posed for sweat-soaked snapshots amid a sea of rowdy Raiders. Richmond coach Paul Hoggard waved at the thousands of fans dancing in the stands at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill and recovered from an ice-cold orange Gatorade bath.

But by the time the Richmond locker room was clear and it was time to load the chartered bus, Hoggard was thinking of a way to do it again.

"Well, to say that it won't be easy would be a major understatement," Hoggard said of repeating as champions. "We're losing a lot, but there's always a way."

Especially when you have Raider Magic -- a term Raiders fans coined for the team's ability to come back in seemingly impossible situations.

"Raider Magic was alive and well tonight," Hoggard said. "We've gotten out of some tight situations this year, and they came up with that. It looked bleak, and I didn't know it would look as bleak as it did, but I told them to keep fighting and keep playing hard. We got that little glimmer of hope, and we made it happen."

The glimmer?

Up 35-32, with just less than two minutes left in the game, Bucs running back Eric Johnson fumbled, which set up Wiley's 4-yard touchdown pass to Lovell Joy to seal the come-from-behind win.

"Outside of the death of a family member, it's hard to imagine a worse feeling," Jack Britt coach Richard Bailey said. "This one was really tough."

Wiley knows this will make him sound post-prophetic, but even before Johnson's fumble, Wiley said he and his teammates could sense something big was about to happen.

"We just kept telling each other to keep playing hard," said Wiley, who was named most valuable player after throwing for 325 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 87 yards. "I mean, I wasn't sure something was gonna change, but I knew we were down three and we needed something to happen. Then we got the fumble."

Added Hoggard: "That's tough for that kid that fumbled, but we had to capitalize there. I honestly feel bad for the kid."

But despite the sensitivity, and even losing 34 seniors next season, Hoggard won't be expecting sympathy cards.

Still, with a rising senior class that will return Wiley and running back Labarrian Jones, who rushed for 1,168 yards this season, the Raiders have the key players to make a legitimate title run.

"It's typical for us to lose lots of players like that," Hoggard said. "Most of the kids that play wait until their senior year to play. But we've got those kids coming back, and our junior varsity program was undefeated. … We'll just try to get it going again."

But was Sunday's big win the beginning of a run similar to what the Raiders put together starting in 1988, when they went on to win five state titles in 10 years?

"Hmm, well, we're gonna enjoy this one right now," Hoggard said. "We're gonna celebrate this one before we worry about any of that stuff."

Although Bailey is 0-9 all time against Hoggard and the Raiders, he didn't hesitate when asked how he thought the Raiders would fare next season.

"They're always good," Bailey said. "Hey, I've never beaten them. They'll be good again."

But early front-runners for the 2009 crown?

"Uhhh …" Hoggard replied with a sly smirk. "Let's give that pressure to Independence [Charlotte]."

Jason Jordan writes for ESPNRISE.com and ESPN The Magazine.