08/16/05 — ECC 3-A football poll -- Falcons 3rd, Saints 4th, Warriors 6th

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ECC 3-A football poll -- Falcons 3rd, Saints 4th, Warriors 6th

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 16, 2005 2:32 PM

The addition of traditional Wilson County football powers Hunt and Beddingfield to the Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference drew immediate attention when the N.C. High School Athletic Association announced its latest realignment more than a year ago.

They already had respect.

While most of the coaches consider the new six-team league an "unknown" in some aspects, each concurred that the high level of play -- and competitive spirit -- would continue each Friday evening. Four of six coaches picked Hunt as the preseason front runner.

The Warriors received four first-place votes and 24 points overall in an informal poll conducted by the News-Argus and Kinston Free Press on Monday morning. Beddingfield, a third-round playoff victim at Hunt last season, earned two first-place nods and 21 points.

Charles B. Aycock collected 15 points, followed by Southern Wayne (11), Kinston (10) and Eastern Wayne (9). Two coaches picked the Golden Falcons, who recorded nine wins last season, to finish second.

"For us, it's out of the frying pan and into the fire," said Aycock coach Randy Pinkowski. "When you're Aycock and you're always the smaller, less-athletic team, with only one feeder school, it doesn't matter what league you're in.

"You're always playing from behind. I think Wilson and Wayne County are producing some good football teams right now. It's going to be an excellent season."

Hunt ended up 13-3 a year ago and lost to Concord in the NCHSAA 3-A (small-school) title game. Warrior coach Randy Raper said his team's strengths are a physical defense and a more mobile offensive line.

Senior defensive back Marcus Sauls tied a state record for interceptions in a season (15) and returned four for touchdowns. The 165-pounder earned the Big 8 North Conference defensive player of the year award.

Justin Bass and Quentin Stackhouse, a pair of 220-pound defensive ends, combined for 230 tackles, 13 sacks and 37 tackles for loss. Bass is receiving interest from East Carolina, Western Carolina and Duke.

Raper discounted the coaches' choice.

"In my opinion, Beddingfield is the most talented and deepest team in this league right now," said Raper, whose career record is 118-39. "We'll take that, grow off of it and take it as a challenge. That will give everybody else (in the league) more incentive, as if they didn't have enough.

"That speaks highly of your program when everyone picks you number one. It's an honor, but you carry that bull's-eye."

Beddingfield returns eight three-year starters from a year ago. Included in that group is senior quarterback Bennett Johnson (6-foot, 175 pounds), who threw for nearly 2,400 yards and 28 touchdowns as the Bruins finished 8-6 overall.

Every skill position player is back except the tight end and the Bruins' backfield features a pair of 1,000-yard backs -- Gynorris King and Jerry Atkinson. Overall, 25 lettermen return for a team that has high expectations but a few question marks on the offensive and defensive lines.

"We'll just have to wait and see," said Nelson, who is 21-17 in four seasons.

The Saints, who have had three winning seasons in the past five years, suffered a major blow Friday in a scrimmage at Southern Vance. Junior quarterback Michael Holland sustained a broken arm and his status for a return is unknown.

Three coaches picked Southern Wayne to finish third.

"I think they're all going to be good football teams," said ninth-year coach Bob Warren. "I don't know enough to make a good judgment at this point of the season, but I know there are no weak teams.

"The new conference allows us to be closer. The longest trip is only one hour and we are at one end of the conference."

Southern Wayne opens its 2005 campaign at home Friday against West Craven, which captured four consecutive ECC crowns before moving into a new conference this season.

Before Kinston enters the ECC portion of its schedule, it will receive three stern non-conference tests. Hertford County, Rocky Mount Senior High and Greene Central were all picked to win their respective conferences.

The Vikings were picked as high as second and as low as fifth.

"I have no clue where we will be," said first-year coach Ken Whitehurst, who played in the old ECC at North Pitt in the early 1980s. "I know of all these programs by reputation. With the recent history of the conference, we know how we shake out with the Wayne County schools."

Whitehurst has abandoned the two-platoon system employed by former coach Lonnie Baker. He has discovered the players are willing to be versatile, which multiplies his options on offense and defense.

Kinston emerged the ECC runner-up to West Craven last year and concluded the season 8-4.

Like his fellow coaches, third-year Eastern Wayne skipper Jeff Price is excited about the new league. The Warriors performed well against West Craven in a controlled scrimmage last week, leaving Price with a confident outlook.

"There were a lot of positives there to build on ... a lot of potential and promise," said Price. "The key will be team unity and trusting in each other."