When Rowland High School football coach Craig Snyder offered the "we're just happy to be here," line while discussing Friday's CIF-Southern Section Southeast Division semifinal against top-ranked Charter Oak, it wasn't just another over-used sports cliche.
 
The Raiders not only were 3-8 last season, but this is the school's first trip to the semifinals since 1968. A win will put them in their first championship game in school history.
 
"Of course, we'd like to move on and play for a championship, but nobody expected our kids to be where they are right now," Snyder said. "I'm so darn proud of how hard they worked. They've played their butts off and are excited about the opportunity to play the best team in our division."
 
The Raiders have been the surprise of the season. They beat Northview 21-12 in September, then knocked off West Covina, 16-7. West Covina is in Saturday's other semifinal against Diamond Ranch.
 
After finishing in a three-way tie for the San Antonio League title, Rowland (10-2) won the coin flip to enter the playoffs as the league's top team, then defeated Burroughs 22-21 in the first round before scoring a 52-28 victory over once-beaten La Serna in the quarterfinals.
 
But Charter Oak is something different entirely. The undefeated Chargers (11-0-1) routed Bell Gardens (55-15) and Crescenta Valley (40-9) to reach the semifinals for the third consecutive season and return third-year starting quarterback Chris Allen, who has lost just three games his entire career.
 
"It's got all the making of a David vs. Goliath matchup," Snyder said. "I just hope we've got a few lucky stones to throw at them.
 
"I swear that kid (Allen) can throw the ball 80 yards, and he's so efficient. We were saying the other day he looks like Daunte Culpepper. Then they have the running back (Adam Muema), they play defense and are so well-coached. You know, they're the best team we've seen all season. I don't think that's a secret."
 
Chargers coach Lou Farrar spent the weekend breaking down video on Rowland and came impressed with how similar both teams appear.
Raiders sophomore quarterback Michael Ball has grown over the season while throwing for 1,619 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also is second on the team in rushing with 620 yards.
 
Senior running back Brandon Stansell has more than 1,000 yards rushing and averages just under 100 yards a game.
 
Where Rowland also mirrors Charter Oak is on defense, where the Raiders are allowing just 14 points a game.
 
"They've done a phenomenal job this season," Farrar said. "They've got athletes, we're similar in size and they've won 10 games. I don't care who it is, when you play a team with 10 wins in the semifinals you know you're facing a good team."
 
Chargers running back Adam Muema left Friday's win over Crescenta Valley in the first quarter with a hip injury, but the move was more cautionary than anything else.
"He could have played if we needed him," Farrar said. "He had three carries and two touchdowns, and with the quick lead, we just decided to hold him out. But he's fine and will be ready to go on Friday."
fred.robledo@sgvn.com
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**Don't Miss This Game - Friday, Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. at Rowland High School!**