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On Sept. 22, the Fike High varsity football team sat at 3-2 and was one loss away from heading into the teeth of the 3-A Big East Conference schedule with a .500 record.
Then, a visit to Erwin Triton began to turn the Golden Demons’ fortunes around for the better.
Senior kicker Walker Gliarmis nailed a 42-yard field goal with 11 seconds to go, lifting Fike to a 34-31 victory.
That was the start of a stretch where Fike (8-3) closed the season by winning five of its final six games and along the way, secured second place in the Big East.
Now with the No. 8 seed in the 3-A bracket for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs, Fike earned a first-round home game. The opponent? None other than Triton (6-5), which drew the No. 9 seed and makes its way to Buddy Bedgood Stadium for Friday’s 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
Can Fike’s good fortune continue against the team with which it arguably began?
“I hope so,” Fike head coach Tom Nelson said. “That’s what we’re going to bank on. We’ve had a decent week of practice in not great conditions, and hopefully our kids are ready to play, and it’s going to be a good night for the Demons.”
Three other teams from The Wilson Times readership area will be also be in action. Also in the 3-A bracket, No. 3 Southern Nash, the Big East champion, draws No. 14 seed Fayetteville Westover.
Moving to the 2-A bracket, No. 10 Greene Central visits No. 7 Kinston in a regular-season rematch of Eastern Carolina Conference foes. In Pinetops, No. 11 Hertford County is on the road to face EPC tri-champion SouthWest Edgecombe, the No. 6 seed.
At all sites per NCHSAA postseason rules, kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
The Greene Central-Kinston contest from Viking Stadium will be available for listening at www.960thebull.com.
SPEIGHT OUT FOR FIKE
However, if Fike is to advance into the second round, it will have to do so without one of its biggest threats out of the backfield. Junior Cody Cooper-Speight sustained a broken collarbone in the regular-season finale against Hunt and will be lost for the remainder of the season, leaving the running duties to seniors Justin Daniels and Aaron Jolly. Nelson said the scheme wouldn’t change in Speight’s absence, leaving Daniels and Jolly to carry out the balance of Fike’s run calls.
“We’re going to have to have them step up and play big,” Nelson said. “We’re going to have to make sure we’re blocking for them, and it’s not just one guy. It’s going to have to be the whole offense that steps up and makes plays.”
The Demons will have senior quarterback Jaelynn Melton back in the lineup after a minor knee injury kept him out for the win against Hunt. Junior Josh Avery assumed command of the offense in Melton’s absence and directed the Demons to a resounding 31-6 win over their archrival.
“He has been cleared and has had a good week of practice,” Nelson said of Melton. “So they both are going to be available.”
Triton, which runs the wing-T offense, churned out 387 yards on the ground and carried a 31-28 lead into the fourth quarter. Yet a pair of Gliarmis field goals over the final 5 minutes, 10 seconds, gave the Demons the margin of victory.
In that game, senior running backs De’marius Staton and Da’John Williams did most of the ground game damage for the Hawks. Staton had 170 yards on 22 carries, while Williams accounted for 121 yards and three scores.
“I think we definitely were slow starting against it and gave up a bunch of points in the first half,” Nelson said of the wing-T. “We made a few adjustments and played much better in the second half. So hopefully, that will continue on to tomorrow night.”
One thing Fike did get against Triton’s defense was massive production in the passing game. Melton enjoyed his best passing game against the Hawks in the regular season, completing 12 of 23 passes for 361 yards. Senior Brandon Atkinson, at wide receiver, hauled in six receptions for 226 yards, including a 94-yard scoring strike.
However, that production from the Fike aerial attack has been the exception rather than the norm, even during Fike’s streak of five wins in six contests.
“The last time we played them, we threw the ball very well,” Nelson said of Triton. “Hopefully we’ll be able to throw it for a high percentage and be able to throw it when we want to, not when we have to. And hopefully, we’ll have some success doing it.”
The Fike-Triton winner will get the winner of No. 1 Western Alamance and No. 16 Eastern Wayne in the second round.
FIREBIRDS’ RUN BEGINS
For Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster, not opening the postseason with a Big East opponent is a relief. Last year’s postseason was nothing more than an extended conference schedule, with Southern (10-1) beating Northern Nash in the first round before bowing to Rocky Mount en route to the Gryphon’s run to the state title game.
“You need to play somebody different,” Foster said. “Like last year, playing Northern in back-to-back weeks was a little different. But we’re looking forward to it.
Southern Nash gets a Westover (4-7) team that finished seventh out of nine teams in the split 3-A/4-A Patriot Conference.
Quarterback Xavier Marsh has eclipsed the 200-yard mark in five games.
“The quarterback is a good athlete,” Foster said. “They spread you out, and they have athletes who can hurt you. It’s a matter of making sure you don’t give up that big play. They’re capable.”
Dmarion Ford (615 yards, six TDs) leads the ground attack with Tyron George (694 yards, six TDs) and Camari Williams (564 yards, six TDs) leading the way. Thomas Hendricks, a third receiver, has six TD grabs on just 23 receptions.
Southern Nash, which allowed just 31 points in conference play, counters with the one-two punch of junior Zonovan Knight and senior Kendrick Bell in the backfield. Knight, who was named the NCHSAA’s Performance of the Week Award winner after his 252-yard, four-touchdown showing against Franklinton, finished the regular season with 1,405 yards and 19 TDs. Bell had 1,136 yards on the ground and 18 scores.
Senior Hunter Perry leads the tenacious defense with 10.5 sacks. Should the Firebirds advance, they would draw either No. 6 Eastern Alamance or No. 11 Northeast Guilford at home in the second round.
After a 10-7 loss to Beddingfield that sent SouthWest Edgecombe (9-2) to the No. 6 seed in the 2-A East bracket, the Cougars are home to Hertford County (6-5).
SouthWest will attempt to reinvigorate a rushing attack that was held in check by the Bruins, with the Beddingfield defense limiting the Cougars to under 100 yards on the ground.
Senior Alex Foster and junior Dashon Bandy lead the way on offense for the Cougars, with Foster amassing 1,265 yards and nine TDs. Bandy, also an impact cornerback on defense for SouthWest, has 848 yards and 10 scores.
Either No. 3 Southwest Onslow or No. 14 Goldsboro awaits the winner.
For Greene Central, the Rams are still seeking the first playoff victory in the Allen Wooten era after coming up empty in four previous trips. The Rams (7-4), who tied for second in the ECC alongside Kinston (9-2), finished the regular season with the top passer, rusher and receiver in The Wilson Times readership area.
Senior Willie Edwards, at running back, amassed 1,520 yards and 28 TDs. Quarterback Jackson Batchelor, another senior, had 1,922 yards and 13 TDs, while senior wide receiver Taboris Bynum racked up 635 yards and eight TDs.A Greene Central win would send it to No. 2 East Bladen in the second round or into a home game with No. 15 Warsaw James Kenan.