11/18/04 — Old teammate brings hot, talented squad to LaGrange

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Old teammate brings hot, talented squad to LaGrange

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 18, 2004 1:56 PM

LAGRANGE -- He wanted them to hurt emotionally from the pain of the heartbreaking postseason loss to Western Guilford. He wanted them to understand the necessity of remaining committed -- through the offseason -- of keeping North Lenoir among the Eastern Plains Conference's elite football teams.

And coach Wayne Jackson wanted his returning starters to fuse together as a unit.

Second-semester transfers, disinterest in the football program and other troubles led to the departure of 16 potential returnees before summer practice began. Jackson wondered if the Hawks could overcome the adversity, contend for the EPC title and return to the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 2-AA (large-school) playoffs.

Midway through the season, Jackson had no answers.

North Lenoir lost four of five games and headed into a non-conference showdown against Southern Wayne in desperate need of a confidence boost. The Hawks, specifically Antonio Hamilton and William Brown, ran rampant that evening and turned around what had been a miserable season.

Five wins later, North Lenoir (6-6) is in unfamiliar territory -- round two of the postseason. The Hawks entertain Western Alamance, the 2003 eastern regional runner-up to eventual state champion Reidsville.

Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. at Bullock Field.

"We call this week 'gravy week' because this is just extra," Jackson said. "We're having a good time at practice. There is no pressure on us and all of the pressure is one them because they're supposed to win.

"This is a game, like I told the kids, that could really put our football program on the map. It's a quality opponent -- a team that's got a good, little tradition going for the last 10 years or so."

It's a matchup between former Catawba College teammates. Both Jackson and the Warriors' Hal Capps played together on the offensive line more than a decade ago.

Western Alamance (9-3) is bidding for its third straight appearance in the east semifinals and fifth overall since 1999. The Warriors, seeded fifth, blitzed Warren County 40-0 last week en route to their fifth shutout of the season.

Capps brings an experienced and large team to town.

Each offensive tackle weighs 275 pounds and each guard is in the 240-pound range along with the center. Jackson added the fullback and tailback have average speed.

"Their offensive line gets off the football real well," Jackson said. "They don't have great speed, but they run the football really well out of the pro I. They've got a quarterback who has started every game (41 total) since the first day he walked on campus.

"They don't throw an awful lot like most people in that conference. They probably throw it 15 or so times a game, but they're really effective when they do. They have quality receivers. The tight end is 6-foot-4 and has really good hands."

Western Alamance, which is 2-7 all-time in road playoff games since 1972, has scored 28 or more points in six of its last eight games. The Warriors will operate against a Hawks defense that yields 302.2 yards and 22 points a game.

North Lenoir has found some offensive punch since working through its EPC schedule. Jackson's club has put up 20 or more points in five of its last six games.

The Hawks face a smaller defensive line that includes a pair of 240-pound bookend tackles and a 220-pound nose guard. The lack of size might appear misleading, but the Warriors swarm to the football well and get great support from their linebacking corps.

"They are going to smother you and overwhelm you on defense," Jackson said.

The game plan is simple.

Jackson doesn't expect to veer away from what has gotten the Hawks to this point. Hamilton turned in a 333-yard effort a week ago, and will need to run the ball consistently again to keep the chains moving.

The defense must continue to play steady.

"We'll try to run the football like we always do; try to keep it out of their hands as much as possible," Jackson said. "Defensively, we've got a few wrinkles in to stop a few things they try to do. We've been pretty good against the run here (lately), but we need to do a little better against the pass.

"We have to minimize the turnovers."

North Lenoir will attempt to win four home games for the second consecutive year -- which would be a first in school history.

"I told our guys that along our journey, we have to win a game that's going to give us respectability moreso than what we see in our community and in our conference," Jackson said. "This could be the game if we're fortunate enough to win."