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For the varsity football teams left to play on this extra week of the regular season as set forth by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, there’s plenty for which to take the field.
With Hurricane Florence marching through The Wilson Times readership area and other parts of the state in September, the NCHSAA made the decision to push the start of the postseason back a week and leave the Nov. 9 playing date as a make-up opportunity.
Not only will that give additional teams the opportunity to practice around the Thanksgiving holiday, but it leaves a number of area games with serious implications entering Friday’s games.
For the Firebirds of Southern Nash, an opportunity exists to lock down the No. 1 seed in the NCHSAA 3-A East bracket and outright possession of another Big East Conference championship. Charles B. Aycock can secure a high-water mark for victories in the Steve Brooks era and solidify its return to the postseason. For North Johnston, its regular-season finale is a last-ditch chance to attain playoff eligibility.
Edgecombe County pride will run rampant in Tarboro, as traditional foes SouthWest Edgecombe and Tarboro meet in a rivalry clash rescheduled due to Florence. The Cougars, with an upset victory, can solidify its spot as the top seed in the 2-AA bracket, while the Vikings attempt to keep their train moving towards another run at a 1-AA state title.
In Snow Hill, the Rams of head coach Allen Wooten are intent on giving Kinston its first loss and entering the playoffs on a positive note.
At all four sites, kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
SW EDGECOMBE (9-1) AT
When Florence came through and caused disruption to the high school football schedule for the games scheduled for Sept. 14, there was no doubt within the confines of Edgecombe County that the Cougars and Vikings would find a new playing date — even if it meant playing on a Monday in-between a pair of Friday games.
Therefore, when the NCHSAA granted the extra playing week, it was only logical to move this colossal encounter to Nov. 9.
“There wasn’t any doubt,” SouthWest Edgecombe head coach Jonathan Cobb assured. “I think we originally scheduled it for Monday, and then when they added the extra week, Coach (Tarboro head coach Jeff) Craddock and I were in agreement with finishing the season. We’re an overall community. They’re 10 minutes down the road. We’re certainly proud of our body of work, and certainly, Tarboro is Tarboro.”
SouthWest enters after securing the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference championship with a 39-15 victory at Beddingfield. Tarboro, winners of 25 straight games and the reigning NCHSAA 1-AA champions, stampeded through the Coastal Plains Conference. The Vikings, the unanimous No. 1 team in the North Carolina Associated Press 1-A poll all season, hasn’t allowed a team to score in double digits all season and has outscored its opposition 571-25. Six teams have been shut out by the Vikings.
The Cougars entered the 2-A AP poll this week at No. 9 for the first time.
“What an atmosphere and what a test it’s going to be to see how much we’ve grown as a football team,” Cobb said. “Are we ready for that big stage that we’re all trying to get to?”
SouthWest, although it has introduced more of a throwing element this season with senior quarterback Jayden Lewis, remains based around the wishbone offense. Senior Darntrell Council leads a bevy of Cougar running backs with 774 yards and 10 TDs. Speedy senior Jareil Collins has added 522 yards on the ground and five TDs, with junior Cortezz Jones adding 407 yards and 10 rushing scores. Sophomore Tayshaun Pittman is another candidate to gain the edge on toss plays.
When Lewis throws it, his primary target is junior Keishon Porter with 23 receptions for 513 yards and nine TDs.
Tarboro, out of its vaunted “Tarboro T,” has had 19 different ball carriers get touches during a number of running clock affairs.
Senior Keon Caudle leads the group from a yardage standpoint (686 yards, 9 TDs), but is far from the only threat.
“We feel like there’s much doubt out there as to how we’ll perform in this game,” Cobb said. “And so, we want to embrace the role as the underdog.
SouthWest will be without senior cornerback Davareyae Pride, who sustained a torn ACL in the victory over North Johnston two weeks ago. Ticket sales have been brisk in the school building.
“We are who we are,” Cobb said. “We’ve got to do the things that got us here. We might be a little undersized in this football game. They are so great up front. For us, it comes down to our will, our heart and our effort. We’ve got to be scrappy, and that’s really the message.”
The latest release of the HighSchoolOT.com playoff projections was kind to the Cougars, with SouthWest getting a No. 1 seed in the 2-AA bracket. At 9-1 already, SouthWest, at worst, will be able to drop a second nonconference loss by playing this 11th game.
SOUTHERN NASH (8-0, 4-0 BIG EAST) AT NORTHERN NASH (3-6, 0-4 BIG EAST)
The Firebirds, who moved up to No. 4 this week in the 3-A Associated Press rankings, had more than the effects of Florence to deal with in its scheduling.
Lightning intervened during a nonconference game with 4-A juggernaut Wake Forest, causing the game to be suspended in the first quarter and not made up. With Jacksonville White Oak on the Firebirds’ schedule, the original plan was to play the Vikings on Nov. 9. Yet when inclement weather not of the hurricane variety wreaked havoc with a game against conference opponent Northern Nash, the plans to play White Oak were nixed and the Northern Nash game was moved to Nov. 9.
It hasn’t been a pleasant defensive year for first-year head coach Andrew Farriss at Northern Nash, but the HighSchoolOT projections had Northern Nash in as a No. 16 seed in the 3-A East bracket, fueled by the self-imposed postseason ban to Hunt and Fike after the teams were involved in a post-game skirmish last week.
Despite playing just nine games, the Firebirds could be in a position to take the No. 1 seed in the 3-A East bracket. As of Monday, the adjusted MaxPreps ranking used by the NCHSAA to seed the playoffs had Southern Nash ahead of Havelock by one spot. Gastonia Huss and Northwest Cabarrus, the only two teams ahead of the Firebirds and Rams in 3-A, will go West in the 3-A and 3-AA brackets.
Therefore, a Firebirds win could be enough to seal up the No. 1 spot depending on how the secret formula treats Havelock’s forfeit victory over Hunt. The Warriors forfeited the remainder of their season, including the rescheduled Havelock game, by accepting the self-imposed ban from Wilson County Schools.
“The main thing is concentrate on what we do tomorrow night and see what happens,” Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster said. “We’re in a position to play some games at home, hopefully that’s what happens.”
The one-two combo of senior Zonovan Knight and junior Quinton Cooley has paced Southern Nash, with Knight, an N.C. State commit, accounting for 1,435 yards and 16 TDs. Cooley, the area’s third-leading rusher, has 1,418 yards and 21 TDs on the ground, while Knight is now the school’s all-time leading rusher.
Through eight games, the Firebirds have given up 21.25 points per game with an offense that doesn’t take too long to score in the double-wing attack. By comparison, last year’s Southern Nash team wrapped up the season giving up an average of 14 points per contest — one less touchdown against a schedule that included Wake Forest, Rocky Mount and Havelock.
“It’s frustrating that we’ve got so many kids hurt,” Foster said. “We’ve got to use some of our offensive guys more sparingly. I think our kids have tried hard. We’ve tried to instill a next man up mentality, but it’s one thing to say it and another to do it.”
Southern’s offense has rolled over opponents to the tune of 56.1 points per game through eight outings. The 2017 Firebirds averaged just over 48 points per game.
Another beneficiary of the Hunt-Fike fracas is none other than C.B. Aycock, which can collect its fifth win of 2018 with a victory over North Johnston and Ben E. Strifert Stadium. The Golden Falcons (4-6) were projected to be a No. 15 seed in 3-A East with the latest HighSchoolOT.com release and can ostensibly move away from a first-round date with either Southern Nash or Havelock with a win over North Johnston.
Junior Alijuan Moore is coming off a five-touchdown performance on offense in a 50-14 win over New Bern that included a 48-yard interception return for a score. Classmate Taevian Jackson ranks second in the area with 1,418 rushing yards and 14 TDs.
North Johnston (3-7) of the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference must defeat CBA in order to gain the minimum four wins for playoff eligibility.
Junior quarterback Camden Aycock, senior wide receiver Imandre Mcfarland and sophomore running back Camron Privette lead the way for the Panthers.
Awaiting Greene Central (6-4, 3-2 ECC) is a chance to spoil Kinston’s chance at an outright 2-A Eastern Carolina Conference championship. Senior A.J. Dupree has been asked to do more at quarterback with injury to junior B.J. Corbitt, while the Vikings, unbeaten through nine contests, entered the Associated Press 2-A poll this week at No. 10.