09/08/05 — Game of the week -- Gators gearing up for Lakewood

View Archive

Game of the week -- Gators gearing up for Lakewood

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on September 8, 2005 2:00 PM

When Spring Creek football coach Roy Whitfield started compiling non-conference schedules four years ago, he didn't search for easy opponents.

Whitfield, in fact, hunted for the best eastern North Carolina had to offer. His journey didn't take him far from his own backyard. His future non-conference opponents were just a phone call or short drive away in neighboring Sampson County.

Tradition-rich Hobbton and Midway, two perennial playoff contenders, and Lakewood undoubtedly provided the competition Whitfield seeked.

Once the ink had dried on the home-and-away contracts, Spring Creek began its indoctrination into high school football.

"It's good for our kids," said Whitfield, now in his fifth season with the Gators. "I like the competition. I enjoy coaching and playing against those teams. When you look at the track record throughout the years, you see they do pretty good.

"(They say) Wallace is always first and then we (rest of the teams) fight for second place (in the Super 6). They all do pretty well in the playoffs year in and out. It's just a good measuring stick for us."

Spring Creek owns an all-time record of 3-11 against Super Six opposition. The Gators are 2-3 against Hobbton, 1-4 against Midway and winless in four tries against Lakewood -- this week's opponent.

The Gators (1-2) gained immeasurable confidence two weeks ago with a home victory against Hobbton. Whitfield said the win proved to his players they could compete against good talent.

They entered the Midway game brimming with pride and belief they could beat two Super Six teams in one season for the second time since 2003.

But a fumbled snap before halftime and a third-quarter fumble allowed the Raiders to pull away 35-20.

"We're like N.C. State," said Whitfield, whose team ran just 12 offensive plays in the second half last week. "If we can eliminate the mistakes like we did against Hobbton, I think we can be pretty good.

"If we make mistakes like we did against Midway, we're just going to hurt ourselves."

Lakewood enters 0-2, but the record is misleading. The Leopards have lost to a pair of good teams, including to 1-A East Carteret last Friday.

"They've played two very good teams and like us in our two losses, they've sort of hurt themselves with some turnovers," said Whitfield. "They've got some talent and when they eliminate those turnovers, they are going to be a very good football team."

The Leopards run the I-formation and have an experienced senior at quarterback. He spreads the offensive responsibility among the fullback and tailback, but Whitfield said he'll get the slot receiver involved in the offense, too.

Whitfield added Lakewood's line, especially its size, reminds him of Hobbton. The Gators undoubtedly must concentrate on containing the tailback and fullback. Spring Creek, through three games, yields an average of 288 yards per game defensively.

Lakewood has scored 30 or more points in three of the four regular-season meetings. The Gators lost to the Leopards in overtime in 2001 and have scored two touchdowns or more in two other contests.

"Last year, it went almost down to the last couple of possessions," said Whitfield. "We've had chances (to win), but maybe it's a mental thing now. We're still learning. The desire (to succeed) is definitely there and that's the big thing -- especially from our juniors and seniors who have been here a couple of years."