Crunch time has arrived

Bruins, Jaguars set to open playoffs in chilly conditions

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Head varsity football coaches James Ward of Beddingfield High and Scott Gardner of Farmville Central have enough factors with which to be concerned in readying for Thursday night’s 7:30 first-round North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2-A playoffs clash in Bruins Stadium.

But suddenly appearing in the mix is a new worry — the weather — which threatens to levy the most impact.

Neither team has played in a 2017 game in which the temperature has dipped below 40 degrees. But Thursday night’s forecast is for a temperature in the 30s along with rain.

The rivals are members of the Eastern Plains Conference, with the Bruins prevailing 42-21 on their turf during the regular season. The playing conditions were a lot more tolerable then.

Wednesday’s practice session for Beddingfield, said Ward, was stopped for a “heart-to-heart” about the weather when players spoke of being too cold.

“It shouldn’t be that big but (the weather) is going to be big,” Ward contended. “The difference could be, can we handle the cold weather. It’s going to get colder and colder and our players have to make up their mind what they want — do they want to continue winning football games? I think we’re ready to handle it.”

The Bruins practiced in the rain Wednesday and even cut the sprinklers on. The players worked with wet football and footballs that had been dipped in ice buckets.

“This time of the year — when it gets cold — it comes down to who wants to keep playing and who wants to stay home,” Farmville Central’s Gardner admitted.

“But I don’t think the cold weather is going to be that much of a problem. We’ve played in cold weather before and both of us have to play in the same weather.”

Beddingfield, at 7-4, enters as an Eastern Plains tri-champion and as the No. 5 seed in the 16-team East Region field. The Jaguars stand 5-6 and are seeded No. 12.

Playing a conference foe in the opening round anything but pleases Gardner.

“I am not really happy with the way the playoff system has turned out,” he said. “If you make the playoffs, you should be rewarded with a chance to play somebody different and not somebody you played two weeks earlier. It’s always hard to play a team a second time.”

The Jaguars’ emphasis will be upon controlling the football and not making mistakes. In the regular-season meeting, Farmville Central led with a splendid first half and only trailed by six points when the Bruins exploded for three TDs in a span of some two minutes.

“They are incredibly explosive,” Gardner described the Bruins.

And the veteran head coach contends the Jaguars are a shell of the team that began the season. Sidelined are three of the top tacklers, a couple of key offensive linemen and NCAA Division I prospect Keziah Everett, a tight end and defensive tackle.

Junior Jay Leavelle directs the Jaguars offense and has completed 23 of 54 passes for 428 yards, seven TDs and five interceptions. Senior fullback Jeremiah Sutton is the top threat, rushing for 1,033 yards and 11 TDs on 165 carries. Capable of big plays is senior Kam McNeill, who has caught 14 passes for 293 yards and four TDs.

“We had a pretty good football team when the season started,” Gardner declared, “but we have been decimated. We can’t make mistakes and have to play a little better defense.”

Beddingfield’s Ward assures his team will accept the opening kickoff and focus on wrapping up when tackling Sutton and shutting down McNeill.

“We have to tackle harder and take good care of the football,” Ward remarked.

Senior Sean Jones is back running the offense. He has connected on 46 of 110 passes for 726 yards, five TDs and nine interceptions in seven games. Through seven games, sophomore Jalil Hutcherson had rushed for 686 yards and 11 TDs on 74 carries.

Jones has amassed 306 yards and five TDs on five rushes, while senior Marcus Parker has contributed 347 yards on 81 rushes. Hutcherson is also the leading receiver with nine receptions for 284 yards and three TDs. Junior Zach Adams has registered 12 tackles for lost yardage.

“We’ll just take our running backs, put them in space and let them go to work,” Ward said.

Only injured standout senior Aaron Bland will be on the sideline.

“We are definitely not looking past Farmville Central,” Ward, in his first season, declared. “But it’s time for Beddingfield to make a run, and we feel good about our chances.”