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The first test for Firebirds

SN hosts Rocky Mount in crucial Big East clash

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Through six games, Southern Nash High junior punter Evan Barnes has been living a taste of the good life.

No, he hasn’t resided on a beach chair, sipping tropical mangoes underneath an umbrella as the Firebirds have been running up and down the field on opponents. He’s had the occasional duty kicking extra points as Southern Nash coaches have been endeavoring to find other ways to get him on the field. In Southern Nash’s 6-0 start, Barnes has not been ushered onto the field once to punt the ball away.

To no discredit of the Firebirds (6-0, 2-0 Big East), that might change Thursday night. Key word might.

Fellow unbeaten Rocky Mount (7-0, 3-0 Big East) visits Firebird Stadium in a game that will likely decide which team emerges with the 3-A Big East Conference championship and a priority seeding in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association postseason. In short, it’s the game of the year in the conference and the biggest hurdle left to the Firebirds’ third straight Big East title and the fourth in the last five years.

Rocky Mount-Southern Nash will serve as The Wilson Times Game of the Week, with Alton Britt and Cole Page on the call from Stanhope beginning at 6:30 p.m. with the pregame show on www.wilsontimes.com.

In other area games, Hunt attempts to halt a two-game slide when it travels to upstart Franklinton, while Beddingfield is on a mission to vanquish the final hurdle towards a showdown for the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference championship when it visits Farmville Central. At Buddy Bedgood Stadium, backsliding Fike, loser of four in a row, hosts Northern Nash.

In Pinetops, SouthWest Edgecombe tries to do its part to set up a winner-take-all encounter with Beddingfield when North Johnston comes to town, and Charles B. Aycock stares down the challenge of unbeaten and state-ranked 4-A opponent South Central on the road.

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

RUN CLOCK RUN

Southern Nash, ranked No. 5 in the latest Associated Press 3-A poll, has made a habit out of enforcing the 42-point running clock against opponents this season. While that may or may not take place against Rocky Mount, the game stands to be a crisp affair with the Firebirds’ double-wing offense dueling with the wing-T of Rocky Mount.

Senior running back Zonovan Knight, an N.C. State commit who was named to the Shrine Bowl roster for North Carolina this week, has taken his elusiveness to another level this season.

Knight has literally become a threat to reach the end zone on each and every touch this season, accounting for 960 yards and 13 TDs on just 59 total rushes.

He’s collected 3,979 yards for his career and sits just 180 yards shy of the school’s all-time rushing record, set by Tracey Coppedge. Knight will likely clear the 4,000-yard career mark at a minimum this week and has an opportunity to make the school record his against Rocky Mount.

"We respect them and I think they respect us," Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster said. "We've had a lot of good games the last few years. There have been so many things that have went both ways the last few years. You've just got to make sure you make fewer mistakes than the other team, and that's usually what our games come down to."

Junior Quinton Cooley is a second home run threat in the backfield, and the Firebirds trotted out a bit of a read-option look with both Knight and Cooley taking the snaps from center against Hunt. As if defenses don’t have enough of a kaleidoscope to look at with the Firebirds, Knight handed to Cooley for a 41-yard score off the read in the second half last week.

Southern Nash will have the services of senior cornerback Darius Edmundson against Rocky Mount after Edmundson’s ejection from last week against Hunt was rescinded by the NCHSAA upon video review. Senior Trysten Roberson, who was disqualified after a targeting call against the Warriors’ Tiquez Taylor, also had his ruling overturned by the association.

Entering the 31st meeting all time, Rocky Mount leads the series by a 20-10 margin.

WARRIORS ATTRITION CONTINUES

Hunt’s historical 63-6 loss to Southern Nash last week did more than bruise pride and egos in the halls and offices of Bill Williamson Field House. In addition to the ongoing losses of senior defensive lineman Christian Phaby (broken leg) and senior defensive end Terry Perry, Hunt (4-4, 1-2 Big East) received another blow to its reeling defense when senior middle linebacker Sal Campbell, the team’s leading tackler, went down against the Firebirds.

Third-year Warriors head coach Keith Byrum said that Campbell suffered a “serious knee injury” and is expected to be out the remainder of the season. Nevertheless, the coach said that the players have not used the list of maladies as an excuse.

“That’s a tough one,” Byrum said of Campbell’s exit. “You think about the guys that we’ve had get hurt and be put out. Not only some of our most productive players, but some of our biggest leaders. And that can be a challenge. When your leaders go down, you’ve got other people that have got to step up and be leaders.”

Offensively, the Warriors did find success against Southern Nash’s first-team defense with a read-option look with junior tailback Tiquez Taylor handing the snaps and working in tandem with junior Zyquez Grooms. Taylor ripped off a 29-yard TD run in the package for Hunt’s only score.

“I can’t tell you that!” Byrum said. “I can’t tell you everything I know! Both the boys, they’re real dangerous, and of our challenges, or jobs is to have them on the field together as much as we can.”

Franklinton (7-2, 2-1 Big East) enters as winners of their last two games under first-year head coach Jimmy Williams.

“I’m sure their confidence is probably rolling sky high,” Byrum said of the Red Rams. “We need to have something good happen for us so our confidence has an opportunity to go back up.”

Hunt will be without junior Jaden Spruill for the next two contests after he was ejected from the Southern Nash game for an altercation with the Firebirds’ Darius Edmundson in which Spruill threw a punch.

WHICH DEFENSE WINS?

One way or the other, a struggling defense will walk out of Buddy Bedgood Stadium with a much-needed Big East victory on Thursday night when Fike hosts Northern Nash.

In the case of Fike (2-6, 0-3 Big East), the Golden Demons have surrendered 30 or more points in five of its games, including a total of 142 points in their three conference losses. The Knights (3-4, 0-2 Big East), in their last three outings, have yielded the same output, albeit two of those contests have come against conference opposition.

“We work hard at it every week, and it’s a combination of things,” Fike head coach Tom Nelson said. “Miscommunication and poor tackling, and then playing other really good offensive teams. Rocky Mount and Southern Nash are undefeated for a reason, and so hopefully we can tackle well and run to the football tomorrow night and make them punt.”

Although Fike’s offense has sputtered at untimely moments during its four-game losing streak — most notably in the second half of a 37-36 loss to Franklinton — the Demons have produced 98 points in Big East play with the Gryphons and Firebirds in their rear-view mirror. Still, decision making at crucial times has been spotty on the offensive side of the football.

Senior running back Cody Cooper-Speight, as well as senior quarterback Josh Avery, lead the offense. Avery is also the Fike punter and handles kickoff and field-goal duties. 

Northern Nash is coached by first-year head coach Andrew Farriss, a former Hunt and Fike assistant that spent one season roaming the sidelines with Nelson and the Demons.

“They’ve struggled recently as well, and I feel like it’s going to be an issue of confidence,” Nelson said. “If we can get on them early, hopefully things will go our way. If we let them have some success early, we’re going to be in for a dogfight. Hopefully we’ll limit their opportunities early and score and get up a little bit.”

MIRROR IMAGE

While pigs haven’t been cleared for flight above R. Dixon Sauls Athletic Field, here’s a hard-to-believe fact ahead of the Bruins’ Thursday night clash with Farmville Central.

In the 21st installment of this series — one that the Bruins lead 12-8 — Beddingfield’s offense will mirror that of Farmville Central’s more closely than at any other point in the game’s history.

What in the name of the deceased run-and-shoot is going on here? Simply a winning formula for Beddingfield (7-1, 3-0 EPC).

The Bruins have invested in the running game, and nowhere was that more evident than last week’s 25-7 victory over Nash Central. There, Beddingfield ran the ball 42 times and threw it only 10. Running backs Jalil Hutcherson and Raekwon Batts have become complimentary pieces in the wing-T introduced by “special consultant” Kim Brown, with Hutcherson (677 yards, five TDs) and Batts (626 yards, 12 TDs) putting up similar numbers, albeit with varying running styles.

Senior Zach Adams, fully back from an early season injury, is a third option in the wing-T, running for 80 yards and a score on just seven carries versus the Bulldogs.

Farmville Central (2-7, 1-2 EPC) is led defensively by senior lineman Keziah Everett, a Shrine Bowl selection who has committed to East Carolina. The Jaguars have lost six of their last seven outings as the Bruins can set up their end of a winner-take-all game for the EPC championship next week at home against SouthWest Edgecombe. The Bruins and Cougars split the title last year after Beddingfield claimed a 10-7 win in Pinetops.

OTHER GAMES

The Golden Falcons of C.B. Aycock take on one of their toughest challenges of 2018 against 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference opponent South Central. CBA (3-5, 1-3 ECC) is led by junior running back Taevian Jackson, while South Central remains unbeaten at 8-0 and 4-0 in the ECC. In Wednesday’s release of the Associated Press 4-A poll, the Falcons were ranked No. 7.

Elsewhere, an EPC clash takes place from Pinetops, where North Johnston (3-5, 1-2 EPC) visits Southwest Edgecombe (7-1, 3-0 EPC). The Cougars can do their part to set up a winner-take-all affair at Beddingfield next week behind a diverse backfield that is led by senior Darntrell Council. North Johnston’s backfield is paced by sophomore Camron Privette.

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