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As originally scheduled, varsity football teams from Hunt and Beddingfield will board their respective buses and hit the road for the first round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs Friday.
With wet weather forecast for much of the eastern part of the state, many games were moved to Thursday but the Bruins and Warriors didn’t have to worry about that with their games being played in the Piedmont region. Hunt, the No. 14 seed in the 3-A East Region, will travel to Mebane to take on No. 3 Eastern Alamance while Beddingfield, No. 9 in the 2-A East, is the guest of No. 8 Bartlett Yancey in Yanceyville. Kickoffs for both games will be at 7:30 p.m.
BEDDINGFIELD AT BARTLETT YANCEY
The Bruins (8-3) are coming off a 60-22 loss last Friday at SouthWest Edgecombe in a game that decided the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference championship. The loss also ended a four-game winning streak for Beddingfield.
“We knew that if we lost that game, it was a possibility,” Bruins first-year head coach Carl Smith said of his team not getting a home game in the first round.
Smith said that he has had to learn quickly about the Buccaneers (9-2), who tied for second in the 2-A Mid-State Conference.
“I’ve learned through film they’re a spread team, and they like to run the ball,” he said. “They’re 9-2 and so they’re a good team.”
Even so, Yancey is in unfamiliar territory with a home playoff game. This is the first year the Buccaneers have had a winning record since the 1994 team went 6-5. The nine wins is a school record, eclipsing the 8-2 mark of the 1967 squad.
Sophomore quarterback Brendan Nunnally has throw for more than 1,000 yards while junior running back Michael Slade has racked up 1,144 yards on the ground for the Buccaneers.
But Smith is more concerned with his Bruins than the Buccaneers.
“The biggest thing is we came in Monday and showed them film (of the SouthWest game) and showed our mistakes and wanted to make sure that we still believe in ourselves,” he said. “Those were the mistakes that killed us and got us out of the game quickly.”
Beddingfield in its first year in the power I offense under Smith has relied heavily on junior fullback Raekwon Batts (1,378 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns) and senior halfback Jalil Hutcherson (671 yards, 8 TDs) pounding opposing defenses.
The Bruins defense has kept them in games all season, with junior Cedric Pope, senior Darryll Malachi, senior William Wilder, senior Jah’Quez Artis and senior Davallice Rasberry leading the way.
Smith downplayed the hoopla surrounding the playoffs, instead saying he and his coaches are trying to keep the focus on the task at hand.
“It’s just another football game,” he said. “We’re going to go up there and play our game.”
HUNT AT EASTERN ALAMANCE
After losing 38-7 at Fike to end the regular season Friday night, Hunt wasn’t assured of playing another game. But when the brackets were unveiled Saturday afternoon, the Warriors (5-6) learned they were back in the postseason for the first time since 2015.
“This senior class has never been to a playoff game and that was a goal,” said first-year Hunt head coach Ryan Sulkowski.
But the Warriors’ prize for making the playoffs is the unbeaten Eagles (11-0), champions of the 2-A/3-A Mid-State Conference.
“Obviously they’re a very good program,” Sulkowski said. “They haven’t scored under 40 points in a game this season. When you see that kind of offensive production, that’s scary, especially with what we’ve seen the last few weeks.”
Indeed, the Eagles’ 513 points ranks sixth in the state in all classifications and trails only Watauga (563) and Southern Nash (528) in the 3-A ranks. Several principal players are back from the Eastern Alamance team that upset Southern Nash in the second round of the 3-A playoffs last season. Senior quarterback Austin Bryant has thrown for 2,373 yards and 37 TDs with sophomore Darius Kane (1,002 yards, 14 TDs) as his primary target.
Head coach John Kirby has been at Eastern Alamance for 35 years.
“I was 6 years old when he took that job!” said Sulkowski. “But that’s consistency in the program.”
Sulkowski said that wet weather could be an ally for Hunt.
“It could play to our favor because they throw the ball pretty well and if you have a wet ball, there’s no telling where it might go,” he said.
The game plan is to try to sustain drives on offense and just slow the Eagles down on defense.
Sulkowski hopes the experience of playing against 3-A Big East Conference competition will serve the Warriors well.
“We have five of the six teams in the playoffs,” he said. “We’re seen as a strong conference and we underperformed in some key games. … When you don’t have some consistency offensively, especially in the first year, you’re going to hit some of those ruts and that’s what we did. But again, it’s against some good competition.”
Senior Tiquez Taylor is a threat no matter what position he plays for the Warriors. He has run for 1,212 yards while catching nine passes for 111 yards and completing 20-of-34 passes for 235 yards. Sophomore C.J. Joyner has been brilliant at times out of the backfield for Hunt, totaling 866 yards on the ground.
Leading the Hunt defense is junior Aundrey Loftin, senior Zion Barnes, senior Ricky Harris, senior Sincere Batts, senior Chris Artis, sophomore Christian Nicholson, senior Shilick Sauls and Taylor.
The Warriors have one advantage over the Eagles.
“We have nothing to lose and that’s the mentality that we’re going in with,” Sulkowski said.