Bishop Carroll, Bishop McCort, Forest Hills and the former Laurel Valley know the joys of an extended football season.
Playing deep into the PIAA playoffs is far from a common occurrence, however, and that makes what the Richland High School football team accomplished during the 2012 season all the more enjoyable.
The Rams captured the imagination of a community with their entertaining brand of football and, as the wins stockpiled, the region paid more attention. Soon, a fast-paced, balanced offense and a no-nonsense defense gained the attention of the region.
Richland football was the talk of the region and once again proved that the area’s best teams can compete at a state-wide level.
Led by Tribune-Democrat Offensive Player of the Year Tanner Solarczyk and all-state offensive lineman Josh Dininny, Richland won its first Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference championship and District 6 Class AA title.
It was all part of an impressive 14-game win streak that ended with a hard-fought loss to perennial power Aliquippa in the PIAA semifinals.
One of the best things about Richland’s 14-1 season is that a majority of the Rams key players will be back for the 2013 season.
“This team has done tremendous things throughout the year” said Dininny, a senior two-way tackle and a three-year starter, following the loss to the Quips. “For as many underclassmen as we have, we’ve shown toughness and heart that I could only hope for. We’ll be proud of this year, but I want these underclassmen to look forward to the future. They’re going to shine next year.”
That doesn’t mean the 2012 season wasn’t one to savor as the Rams accomplished a long list of firsts for the program.
“We had a heck of a season,” said senior receiver/defensive back Luke Shertzer. “We came this far, farther than any other team at Richland has come. It stinks that we lost (to Aliquippa) but we set the standards for the juniors next year.”
It will be one tough act to follow, though with talent like quarterback Matt Shaffer, receiver Kyle Flick and defensive end Elijah Metzger returning, big things will be expected.
Richland’s first District 6 title, which also doubled as the program’s first win in the state playoffs, was a 27-0 victory over Forest Hills. The game was dubbed “The Bailey Bowl” as it pitted Bailey’s Rams vs. Don Bailey’s Rangers. Don is Brandon’s father.
“Over the last couple years at Thanksgiving the discussion has been about football and the title game,” Brandon Bailey said before the district championship. “Last year we were in it. The year before his team was in it. This year there probably will be less of a discussion of football at the dinner table and more of a discussion of thankfulness, which is the way it probably should be.”
The Rams’ run didn’t end there.
In the PIAA quarterfinals, Richland arguably turned in its most impressive performance as it routed District 10 champion Hickory.
The Rams held Hickory running DeShawn Coleman, a West Virginia recruit, to 85 yards in a 38-12 rout that caught the attention of football followers outside the region.
“So many firsts,” Bailey said. “From conference champs, district champs, undefeated seasons, 14 wins. I think it’s because there is a special relationship between these players and the coaches.”