Columbia Star

1963        Celebrating 60 Years      2023

Richland Northeast makes a statement in win over Bluffton

Richland Northeast running back James Willingham Photo by Mike Maddock

Richland Northeast running back James Willingham Photo by Mike Maddock

Offense took the spotlight in the first round of the high school football playoffs. For most of the night, the Irmo Yellow Jackets dominated the discussion on their way to scoring 85 points. However, by night’s end, Richland Northeast turned in the most impressive performance by scoring 88 points in an 88-54 win over the Bluffton Bobcats.

“The biggest thing for us is we did what we had to do to win the game,” Richland Northeast head coach Walt Wilson said. “It started up front. Our offensive line dominated. We didn’t do anything but run the ball.”

Scoring hasn’t been much of a problem for the Cavaliers this year. Prior to Friday’s contest, Richland Northeast had put up 41 or more points six times, including a previous school-record 73 points against A.C. Flora on October 6.

“I almost look at it as self-defense,” Wilson said. “My thing is if you put up your flag, I’ll put up mine. If you don’t put your flag up, I’m going to keep doing what we are doing. It felt like Bluffton was trying to empty the playbook, running trick plays and everything.”

Richland Northeast quarterback Will Wilson Photo by Mike Maddock

Richland Northeast quarterback Will Wilson Photo by Mike Maddock

The Cavs drew upon previous experiences as they kept scoring.

“We’ve been there before,” Wilson said. “We are at a point where our defense is inexperienced. We ask them to just get one stop against Bluffton in the second half and it was going to be over. They did that and we never looked back.”

The powerful offensive performance was led by quarterback Will Wilson and running back James Willingham, who accounted for 730 yards and ten touchdowns combined.

“If you look at Will’s stats, he does what it takes for the team to win,” Wilson said. “If he has to throw for 300 yards, he’ll do that. If he needs to run for 300 yards, he’ll do that, too. He loves this team. He’s going to do whatever it takes for the Cavaliers to have a chance.”

For the younger Wilson, there was also some extra motivation. For three years, the Wilsons lived in Beaufort County. Will played recreational football during his fifth and sixth grades years. During the 2017 season, as his team was preparing to play Bluffton, he was told he didn’t make the weight limit that day. According to the older Wilson, that was on his quarterback’s mind during Friday’s game.

While there is plenty for the 7-4 Cavaliers to be excited about, the joy will be short-lived. Richland Northeast has to travel to South Florence to take on the defending 4A State Champion Bruins Friday, November 10.

“Comparing Bluffton to South Florence is like comparing a rottweiler to a poodle,” Wilson said. “Both of them can bite you, but you fear one more than the other. South Florence is a team that has earned everything they have. We just want to give ourselves a chance.”

For the Cavaliers to have success, they’ll have to do something no one has had much success doing against the Bruins––score points. Only five of South Florence’s 11 opponents have scored in double digits, and only two of those have scored more than 19 points.

The Bruins’ offense is averaging 41.6 points per game.

If Richland Northeast can get its offense going, Friday’s contest has the potential to be a battle–– something the Cavaliers are familiar with. In the nonregion portion of the schedule, Richland Northeast opened the season at Crestwood, who is currently 10-1. In Region 5-4A play, the Cavs went up against undefeated Irmo, second-place Ridge View, and perennial power A.C. Flora.

There is no doubt, Richland Northeast has a tall task on its hands as it travels to South Florence. Should the Cavs knock off the Bruins, they will find themselves in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2008.

“I’m at a loss of words for what that would mean,” Wilson said. “That would be so huge. We have made so many strides as of right now. I’m so proud of my kids. This is our third year. When I got here, Richland Northeast hadn’t won a game in three years and now we are in the second round of the playoffs. We’ve been blessed. I asked my kids at practice Monday if they knew how many teams were taking up their stuff then? A lot, but we weren’t one of them. That’s a great feeling right there. I don’t take it for granted.”

For the record, the last time Richland Northeast boys’ basketball team scored 88 or more points was an 88-81 win over the Lugoff-Elgin Demons on December 9, 2020.

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