11/11/04 — Prep football -- Saints, Falcons finally at home for playoffs

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Prep football -- Saints, Falcons finally at home for playoffs

By David Williams
Published in Sports on November 11, 2004 1:55 PM

The old saying is true, no matter what application is used -- there is no place like home.

But as far as playoff football is concerned at both Charles B. Aycock and Southern Wayne, there never has been any place like home. Both Wayne County rivals have never hosted a N.C. High School Athletic Association playoff football game -- until this season.

"Not in my 25 years here," said Southern Wayne coach Bob Warren, whose Saints will open the playoffs as the eighth-seeded team in the Class 3-A (small-school) eastern bracket. " Even the 10-0 team from 1974 had to open the playoffs on the road, at Ahoskie.

"There's never been one here, I'm told," said Charles B. Aycock coach Randy Pinkowski, whose Golden Falcons will be the sixth-seeded team in the same bracket. "In 1972 or so there was a playoff game against Clayton, but they had to move it to Goldsboro High School because there was not enough seating at Aycock."

Both coaches directed their teams to this position after strong finishes in Eastern Carolina Conference play. Both teams were tied for second place with Kinston after the regular season was finished, but the Vikings got the second-place seeding position for the playoffs by virtue of beating both Aycock and Southern Wayne. The Falcons beat the Saints head-to-head, so Aycock got third seeding position and the Saints were fourth.

Under Warren, Southern Wayne has made the playoffs four times, including this season. But each time, the Saints have had to open the playoffs on the road.

This season, a huge win against ECC champion West Craven enabled Southern Wayne to draw a seeding that enabled the Saints to play at the Doyle Whitfield Athletic Complex, in front of a home crowd.

"Playing at home is a tribute to the kids for winning that game," said Warren. "We are an eighth seed because of that win. Any lower, and we'd be on the road."

While the home game is important, the opponent is ninth-seeded Nash Central, out of the Big Eight North Conference. The Bulldogs (6-5) are a tough opponent for the Saints. Playoff afficianados will tell you the 8-9 matchup in a playoff bracket will probably be the most evenly-matched game.

Warren certainly thinks so.

"They're athletic, they're well-coached," he said. "Their defensive linemen are some of the best we've seen -- athletic, quick, they get to the football, they're good-sized, and they get pressure upfield real quick."

Warren's offensive line -- which he says has been outsized for nearly every game they have played this season -- will have to block well as the running game has to be quick through the line to combat Nash Central's defensive quickness. Area rushing leader Walter Best is sure to get some notice from the Bulldogs' defense.

Warren is happy with the way his defense has been coming on of late.

"We've been getting consistently better and more aggressive over the last few games," he said. "They're an option team, and that's assignment football. We have to stick to the assignment to stop them."

Pinkowski has developed a consistent, run-oriented Falcons team that relies on its defense to win for them. Aycock won its last four games to close out the regular season and will open the playoffs at Hardy Talton Stadium against 11th-seeded Northeast Guilford, a loser in last year's state title game.

"I don't know how Charles B. Aycock can draw a team last year that was in the eastern championship from two years ago (Wilson Fike) and then this year we get a team from the title game last year," said Pinkowski. "That's our luck."

Northeast Guilford (6-5), the 11th seed in the bracket, comes out of the rough-and-tumble Piedmont Triad Conference, which Pinkowski termed "extremely tough." The Rams are as fundamentally sound a team as Pinkowski has seen all season.

"They played for the state title last year, and you don't get there if you are not talented and well-coached," he said. "They are a good and well-coached football team again."

Northeast Guilford runs a double-wing option with a wing-T look. Coach Tommy Pursley's son is the quarterback, a situation which always concerns Pinkowski.