Area teams soldier on in conference play as the stakes increase

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There isn’t a medical unit stationed adjacent to Bill Williamson Field House — at least not yet.

But the numbers are piling up a bit for third-year Hunt High head football coach Keith Byrum as his team prepares to welcome undefeated Rocky Mount to Warrior Stadium on Friday night.

Senior defensive lineman Christian Phaby remains out, as does classmate Terry Perry. Senior wide receiver and kick returner Elijah Anderson won’t play against the Gryphons, and the Warriors stand to be down a pair of linemen with  junior center Dylan Hensley and sophomore Ryan Kennedy not expected to play.

For all the thrills associated with a come-from-behind 36-35 win over Northern Nash last week, the physical toll of playing football in the 3-A Big East Conference must be paid.

“One of our challenges — is we’ve got us a MASH unit,” Byrum said.

Even so, Hunt will take a 4-2 record and a spotless Big East ledger into Friday’s game against the Gryphons, purveyors of a wing-T offense and a defense that has yielded an average of 15.4 points per game over five contests.

Hunt-Rocky Mount will serve as The Wilson Times Game of the Week, with Alton Britt, Cole Page and F.T. Franks on the call from Warrior Stadium beginning with the pregame show at 6:30 on wilsontimes.com.

In other area games, Franklinton visits Buddy Bedgood Stadium to take on Fike, Beddingfield makes the trek to North Pitt for a 2-A Eastern Plains Conference skirmish, and Southern Nash bids to keep rolling along when it visits Death Valley for a date with Northern Nash.

Elsewhere, Charles B. Aycock hosts Eastern Wayne for the second meeting between the teams this season, North Johnston attempts to vanquish a troublesome opponent on the road at Farmville Central, and SouthWest Edgecombe travels to Nash Central. In the final game involving a team from The Wilson Times readership area, Greene Central is home to West Craven.

At all sites, kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.


The good news, despite the injuries, for the Warriors? Most of the ailments were sustained two weeks ago in Hunt’s loss to Beddingfield, giving the injury list another week to heal.

But as it is, it will be an all-hands-on-deck approach against Rocky Mount, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

“This is one of those times where you can’t get caught looking in the backfield,” Byrum said of Rocky Mount’s wing-T. “They are really, really good at what they do. It doesn’t take but one mistake. We’ve got to make sure we take away the big play and limit it to short chunks.”

Hunt will have to improve its fortune in two areas against Rocky Mount, both in terms of penalties and turnovers. The Warriors were flagged 15 times for 129 yards in the win over Northern Nash, while overcoming four turnovers — two lost fumbles and a pair of interceptions. A kickoff return to open the third quarter contributed to deficits of 28-6 and 35-14 before the running of junior tailback Tiquez Taylor rescued the Warriors from oblivion.

Taylor, who ran for 259 yards on 20 carries, snared an interception on the Knights’ last drive to clinch the game. He was bothered by a strained calf that dialed back his snaps last week, but Byrum said there would be no restrictions on Taylor’s usage against Rocky Mount.

Senior running back Rodell Bridges leads the Rocky Mount rushing attack, accounting for 513 yards and seven TDs. He’s also a threat to catch the football, with seven catches for 151 yards. Junior Tashuan Lawrence is a capable complement, leading Rocky Mount with 183 yards receiving. He’s second on the team with 344 yards rushing. Junior Jaquan Lynch directs the offense, primarily as a passing threat.

Hunt, facing Rocky Mount for the 36th time, trails 20-15 in the all-time series. The Warriors played the Gryphons tough a season ago, losing 20-14 on the road. Hunt has lost the last four matchups.

“We’ve got to play mistake-free football to be in the ballgame,” Byrum said.


With time away due to Hurricane Florence taken into consideration, Fike has gone over a month without winning a football game. A 38-34 victory over Beddingfield on Sept. 7 gave way to a 20-day layoff induced by Florence. Losses to Clayton and Southern Nash — teams with a combined 11-1 record — followed.

Now, Fike is back home searching for a much-needed win. But it won’t come easy against this set of Red Rams, who are playing rejuvenated football under first-year head coach Jimmy Williams.

“We’ve gone through a tough stretch of teams,” Fike head coach Tom Nelson observed.

Fike showed some positive signs despite being outmatched by the Firebirds in its Big East opener. The Demons outscored the Firebirds 31-21 in the second half, but found themselves trailing 20 seconds into the game — despite opening with the football.

Nelson said that the Red Rams seek to spread out opponents on offense, using the shotgun spread to open up running lanes.

“They have a good plan offensively,” Nelson said. “They have several dangerous athletes that are good in space. They’ll spread us out and use the shotgun to run it.”

From a health perspective, the Demons are without many serious injuries. The one exception remains senior safety Tyreon Brown, who suffered a season-ending broken leg against Kinston.

Fike senior running back Cody Cooper-Speight is part of a three-way tie for the area lead in rushing TDs with 14. He’s accounted for 578 yards. Senior quarterback Josh Avery is the area’s highest-rated passer, accounting for 794 yards and five TDs.

In many respects, the Fike-Franklinton clash has the feel of a toss-up. Nelson didn’t disagree.

“Every game in conference is important,” he said. “We’ve painted ourselves into a corner.”


It’s a trap! It’s a trap!

With a trip to North Pitt on the horizon this week — a team that has lost 17 straight dating back to last season — the immediate thought process is that the Bruins will have a week to fine-tune some trouble spots before the back half of EPC play yields a set of tricky challenges.

But that long trip down U.S. Highway 11, draped in isolation, carries its own set of wiles as the Bruins prepare to be a homecoming opponent at E.R. McNair Field in Bethel.

“I’ll tell anybody, the last two years, I thought it was more — not being disrespectful to anybody — it was coaching,” second-year head coach James Ward said. “Because they had the talent. The talent’s been there. They’re very athletic kids.”

Ward describe the Panthers, under first-year coach Gregory Watford, an as offense with multiple sets, including the wing-T, shotgun spread, wishbone and power-I.

Oh, not to mention a run-and-shoot element. Defensively, the Panthers are expected to light up the gaps with pressure and take their chances with man-to-man across the board.

“They’re making somebody stay in the lab with what they’re doing,” Ward assured. 

Ward attempted to have the game moved up with the coming remnants of Hurricane Michael, but he said North Pitt officials did not relent and decided to keep the game on schedule.

In its conference opener last week, Beddingfield overcame a 13-0 deficit against North Johnston. Along the way though, the Bruins fumbled five times and lost a pair. North Johnston was just as generous, dropping the ball on eight occasions. Sophomore Raekwon Batts picked up the cause in the ground game, accounting for three TDs as part of 35 straight points.

“For the first time in a long time, we’ve got the target on us,” Ward said. “Defending conference champs, the preseason pick to win it, we’re not going to sneak up on nobody. You’re going to get everybody’s best punch.”

Senior Zion Hinnant and junior Avery Huggins will continue to see reps at quarterback. Batts is joined in the backfield by junior Jalil Hutcherson in the Bruins’ wing-T presentation. 

Injury wise, the Bruins lost freshman Jalen Harris late in the win over North Johnston. Harris, who saw time at free safety, backup quarterback and fullback, will have an MRI next week.


Which team will make the Southern Nash Firebirds usher punter Evan Barnes onto the field this season?

Five games into the season, that answer still hasn’t been revealed as the Firebirds, ranked No. 5 in the 3-A Associated Press poll this week, heads to Northern Nash.

The Firebirds, who defeated Fike 63-41 last week, again went without a punt in the victory. Even in the abbreviated game against defending North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4-AA champion Wake Forest, Southern Nash had not punted when the game was suspended in the first quarter with the Cougars leading 14-10.

Southern Nash’s double-wing attack remained revved up against the Demons, with the one-two punch of senior Zonovan Knight and junior Quinton Cooley having their way before being removed in the second half. The Firebirds had 497 yards rushing.

Northern Nash, coached by former Hunt defensive coordinator Andrew Farriss, won’t have much time to stew in the aftermath of losing a three-touchdown lead in the second half against Hunt. 

Knight and Cooley are the top two backs in the Times readership area on a yards-per-game basis, with Knight, an N.C. State commit, notching 830 yards and nine TDs. Cooley has 730 yards and 14 TDs, joining Fike’s Cooper-Speight and Greene Central senior A.J. Dupree with that number of scores.


North Johnston (2-4, 0-1 EPC) will be in the market to reverse a troubling trend when it heads to R. Dixon Sauls Athletic Field to face Farmville Central. The Jaguars (2-5, 1-0 EPC) have beaten North Johnston nine straight times, at least dating back to when the teams were rivals in the 1-A Carolina Conference.

In the 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference matchup between the teams, C.B. Aycock (2-4, 0-2) and Eastern Wayne (2-4, 0-2) meet for the second time. A nonconference meeting in Week 3 went the way of CBA in a 40-20 victory, but the rematch in Hardy Talton Stadium will have the Golden Falcons without the services of quarterback Clay Matthews, who is out for the season with an arm injury.

SouthWest Edgecombe (5-1, 1-0 EPC), with its only loss to 4-A unbeaten Winterville South Central, tries to keep its wishbone rolling against reeling Nash Central (2-4, 0-1). In Snow Hill, West Craven takes on Greene Central in 2-A Eastern Carolina Conference play.

The Rams have been reshuffling their offense, with the loss of senior lineman Walker Sutton. Last week, Dupree entered at quarterback in an emergency situation and directed the Rams (5-2, 2-0 ECC) to a 42-26 conquest of North Lenoir inside Kinston’s stadium.

West Craven (2-3) took down South Lenoir 34-0 in its conference opener last week.