Prep football -- Warren, Saints know Hawks' 1-4 record misleading
By David Williams
Published in Sports on September 30, 2004 1:57 PM
DUDLEY -- It was this time last season that Southern Wayne started its October surprise on the football teams of the Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference. After struggling through the first half of the season, the Saints went unbeaten in the month of October, bouncing back from a 1-5 start to secure their third playoff berth in the last four seasons.
At this time last year, North Lenoir had turned a few heads after winning five straight. The Hawks were preparing for battle in the Eastern Plains 2-A Conference wars and ended up with eight wins, good enough for second place in the league.
Friday night, both teams meet at the Doyle Whitfield Athletic Complex for an endowment game, with both teams knowing they are not going to take anyone by surprise this year.
The Hawks are just 1-4 going into Friday's game, but have taken on a quality non-conference slate with teams like East Duplin, Kinston, Wilson Beddingfield and James Kenan. The record is not swaying Southern Wayne coach Bob Warren's opinion at all.
"They are a very good football team," he said. "They are pretty much senior oriented. All the backs are back and they are all three-year starters -- very talented. They present a big challenge."
The Hawk backfield of E.J. Brown, Antonio Hamilton and Ervin Atkins accounted for nearly 4,000 yards last season. They're quick, strong backs who can run over a defender or speed past them.
The problem thus far, according to North Lenoir coach Wayne Jackson, has been the big play -- the offense's struggle to get one and the defense's propensity for giving them up.
Jackson said that Kenan scored three of four touchdowns on big plays and just one after sustaining a long drive.
"We had success (on offense), but we didn't make the crucial plays we needed to make," he said. "We missed on a fourth-down situation three times -- and I mean, all three times we missed by inches. Then they get a fourth-and-15 and they picked it up. We have put our kids in position to make plays, and they just haven't gotten it done."
The Saints (2-3) can run the ball, also. Tailback Walter Best is leading the area with 136 yards per game. Logan Porter is an experienced quarterback with big-play potential.
But Warren's big worry is that his team may still struggle to put two halves of football together. Last week against Charles B. Aycock, the Saints had a 14-7 lead at half but struggled as Aycock scored three second-half touchdowns for the win.
"We have got to play two complete halves," he said. "We certainly didn't do that last week. "In the second half, we didn't play as well -- credit a lot of that to Aycock -- but that's where the game is determined."
The Hawks are a little bigger up front -- most notably on the defensive side of the ball. Warren said North Lenoir's team speed will make it difficult to use quickness on the corners.
"They have real good speed at linebacker and in the secondary," said Warren. "The linemen are physical."
Jackson sees Southern Wayne as a hybrid of Greene Central (for speed) and SouthWest Edgecombe (for size). The Saints' wing-T attack is not very common to the Hawk defense, but Jackson knows how his team must play it.
"It's an offense with a lot of misdirection," he said. "We've got to play assignment football. They can throw and run the ball and they have a quarterback that can throw and receivers that can go catch the ball. They have four or five kids that can be effective running the ball."
Jackson said he wants more from his passing game, to prevent teams from stacking the line and stuffing his runners. Quarterback Andrew Manning is just a sophomore, but is getting adjusted to the game.
"If I had it to do over we would not have played the endowment game," Jackson said. "We'd have played more scrimmages to iron out a few things. He threw it last week, but we had about five drops. Teams that commit to stop our run give us opportunities to throw, and we could not complete it."
Jackson said his team has not been completely healthy all season. Currently, tight end Casey Koonce is out 4-6 weeks with a lacerated kidney sustained in practice. Three different players have been out nursing shoulder injuries.
Southern Wayne's Jo Jo Davis, who had a strong game at defensive end against Aycock, will not play after sustaining a leg injury.
The Hawks were tabbed to win the EPC in preseason polls, but struggled to get out of the gate early on.
"It's been a combination of things," Jackson said of the start. "Our kids probably read the paper too much early on. They thought it would be easier than it has been. Nothing's easy."
Jackson wants the game to spring board his team into league play on a lot of positives.
"Offensively, we need to be more consistent in the passing game -- and of course, we need a victory," he said.
"It's just important for us to start playing good football," said Warren. "We still turn the ball over too much and create our own problems -- the sooner we can quit that, the better we can be."
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