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Playoff spots, rivalries and championship football games — oh my!
Such is the smorgasbord surrounding teams representing The Wilson Times readership area when the final week of the regular season kicks off Friday night.
For the third year in a row, the Beddingfield-SouthWest Edgecombe game will determine the course of the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference, pitting former SouthWest player Carl Smith in his first head-coaching assignment at Beddingfield against Jonathan Cobb, who has directed the Cougars to no worse than a share of the championship in the last four seasons. However, the last time the Bruins and SouthWest played in Pinetops, Beddingfield walked away with a 10-7 victory that assured it of the EPC’s top seed in the postseason.
Hunt and Fike meet at Buddy Bedgood Stadium, with the Golden Demons needing a victory to get into the North Carolina High School Athletic Association postseason. The Warriors can clinch their first winning regular season since 2015, remove any lingering doubt over a playoff spot and improve their pending road playoff game.
Southern Nash can wrap up its fourth straight Big East championship in unbeaten fashion and capture its 21st straight conference win with a victory against Franklinton on its Senior Night. The Firebirds (10-0) have a comfortable advantage over Havelock in the NCHSAA’s latest release of its Adjusted MaxPreps ranking formula, meaning that a win over the 2-8 Red Rams should assure Southern home-field advantage through the duration of the 3-A playoffs.
In other area games, Charles B. Aycock can wrap up the de facto Wayne County Championship with a win over Eastern Wayne and give the best regular-season showing under head coach Steve Brooks another boost.
Greene Central, at 4-6, can give its postseason prospects a shot in the arm if it can deny Washington a share of the 2-A Eastern Carolina Conference championship on the road.
North Johnston, in its final game at Nash Central, attempts to get a third victory in head coach Michael Barnett’s first season.
At all sites, kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
The Beddingfield at SouthWest Edgecombe game is The Wilson Times Game of the Week, with Alton Britt, Cole Page and F.T. Franks on the call beginning with the pregame show at 6:30 p.m. on wilsontimes.com.
BEDDINGFIELD (8-2, 4-0) AT SW EDGECOMBE (9-1, 4-0)
Dating back to his time as a player and an assistant coach at SouthWest Edgecombe, first-year Beddingfield head coach Carl Smith has never stood on the visiting sideline during a game in Pinetops.
That changes Friday night.
Smith, also in his first year as a head coach at the high school level, brings his Bruins back to his old stomping grounds with a conference championship at stake. While the Bruins may be in their infant stages of development under a new coach, an argument can be made that the current Beddingfield offense bears more resemblance to SouthWest teams of old than the Cougars at the moment.
“I’m impressed with Beddingfield on film,” Cobb said. “Coach Smith has done an outstanding job. They remind me much more of SouthWest Edgecombe than they have in the past! I’m proud of him. I coached him my first year as a coach on JV, and he played for my father on varsity.”
Beddingfield comes in with its power-I rushing attack that has staked the Bruins to their first Wilson County championship in a decade. Junior fullback Raekwon Batts has bulldozed through opponents to rank second in the area in rushing, while senior Jalil Hutcherson has settled into a change-of-pace role and looms as a receiving threat if the Bruins get their passing game in rhythm.
“I’m still trying to teach my guys on how to practice like a champion and prepare like a champion,” Smith said. “It’s a blessing, and I try to look at it that way. I try to think of it that way. It could be worse, and it’s a great opportunity and a great time for us to be in a situation like this, this early. But also, it’s one of those things were opportunities come few and far between. And I definitely want my guys to be able to cash in on this opportunity.”
SouthWest, which has only lost to defending 1-AA champion and unbeaten Tarboro for its only loss, has been led by senior Cortezz Jones and junior Demari Mabry in the running game. Senior wide receiver Keishon Porter, who will attend Radford University to play basketball, has seven touchdown catches on 22 receptions on the outside. Junior quarterback Ray Wooten has been termed a “game-time decision” by Cobb. Jackson Lewis, a junior, would take snaps if Wooten can’t go.
In the 2-A Adjusted MaxPreps rankings, SouthWest Edgecombe currently sits No. 7, with Elizabeth City Northeastern two spots above at No. 5. Both are the highest-rated East teams in 2-A, meaning the Cougars will likely be a No. 2 seed in 2-A East with a win. But a Beddingfield win throws all that into limbo and elevates the Bruins to an assured home game in the first round.
The Bruins enter the week No. 32 in the 2-A Adjusted MaxPreps rankings, but conference champions must be seeded first.
“There’s a lot on the line,” Cobb said. “I think the winner of this game gets great position in the seeding process Saturday. There’s a lot to play for.”
And rest assured, the opponent and opposing coach is of great concern to SouthWest.
“I’m pleased for his success,” Cobb said of Smith. “But I’m also worried about him Friday night!”
HUNT (5-5, 1-3) AT FIKE (3-7, 1-3)
Rivalry games are nothing new to Ryan Sulkowski, despite entering his first chapter of the Hunt-Fike rivalry Friday night. It’s devoid of championship implications, but postseason position — and inclusion altogether — is firmly on the line.
Fike has won the last three games in the series, including last year’s 28-0 win that ended with a handshake line melee and both teams having their postseason eligibility stripped by Wilson County Schools.
The theme this week for Hunt? Remove the taste of defeat at the hands of the Demons, Sulkowski assured.
“I know they’ve had our number, and actually Coach (Richie) Pridgen and I were talking about it after practice today. They’re definitely a dangerous opponent. They’ve played some of the best teams in the conference very tough, so they’re not being taken lightly.”
Sulkowski indicated that senior quarterback Dalton Garwood is back in the mix and ready to go from his hamstring injury, making him a candidate for snaps alongside junior A.J. Kovach and senior running back Tiquez Taylor.
For Fike, last week’s 22-15 loss to Northern Nash was another frustrating result in a season where the Demons could have anywhere from one to six additional wins on their ledger.
Make no mistake — Fike, sitting at No. 67 in the 3-A Adjusted MaxPreps rankings, is starting the playoffs one week early. Both teams are ticketed for the 3-A bracket should they qualify for the playoffs.
“It’s like a playoff game,” Nelson said. “Because if we win, we play another week and if we don’t, we don’t. There is a lot on the line, and I think our kids are excited about it.”
Nelson assured that despite the glut of close losses from Fike, the focus and desire has not waned for the Demons.
“We have played a ton of close games,” Nelson said. “Unfortunately, we have been on the wrong side of them. But our kids have been real resilient, and we probably had one of our better practices of the year (Wednesday). I couldn’t be more proud of their fight, and I’m just hoping it’s going to pay off for them Friday.”
Hunt is fighting for two precedents for its own senior class — their first winning record and subsequent postseason appearance after three straight years of three victories.
“To get to five wins and get to .500 for the first time for this senior class, and I said it already, it’s baby steps,” Sulkowski said. “But to finish a season with a winning record for the first time in their career and playoffs for the first time in their high school careers, that’s pretty significant. That’s kind of what we preached to the kids — you have the opportunity to do something else now that you’ve never had the opportunity to do.”
The Warriors entered the week at No. 54 in the 3-A Adjusted MaxPreps rankings.
FRANKLINTON (2-8, 0-4) AT SOUTHERN NASH (10-0, 4-0)
The prospect of playing at home throughout the NCHSAA 3-A postseason is the prize for the Firebirds, who can, in all likelihood, wrap up the top seed in the 3-A bracket if it defeats Franklinton.
Senior running back Quinton Cooley, who has committed to Wake Forest, leads the double-wing offense for Southern Nash, which is coming off a 35-14 victory over Rocky Mount.
Only Weddington and Northwest Cabarrus — a pair of 3-A West teams — are ranked above the Firebirds in this week’s Adjusted MaxPreps Ranking. Havelock, the closest East team, is No. 5 with a 8-1 record. Unbeaten Eastern Alamance (10-0), which eliminated the Firebirds in the second round of the playoffs in 2018, sits in the No. 7 spot. All three are due to be placed in the 3-A East bracket Saturday.
A win over Eastern Wayne on Friday would clinch the first winning season for Charles B. Aycock in the Steve Brooks era as well as the programs first-ever seven-win season under the former Ayden-Grifton offensive coordinator. CBA, which can also finish undefeated against Wayne County foes, was slotted in the No. 47 position according to this week’s Adjusted MaxPreps ranking, all but assuring a place in the 3-A draw.
It’s a win-or-go-home situation for Greene Central (4-6), which could use the boost that would be forthcoming with a victory over Washington (7-3). However, the Pam Pack are battling for a share of the 2-A ECC title with West Craven.
North Johnston (2-8) could capture a second victory on the road in 2019 if it defeats Nash Central (5-5) on Friday. However, the Bulldogs, at No. 61 in the 2-A Adjusted MaxPreps ranking, may not be able to withstand a loss to the No. 88 Panthers.