Let's do it again: Familiar foes clash in opening-round playoff games
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 7, 2006 1:47 PM
Surprising matchups, based solely on geography, highlight opening-round play involving area teams in the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 1-A football playoffs.
Rosewood and James Kenan each face opponents from their regular-season schedule on the 1-AA (large-school) scene. The 10th-seeded Eagles travel to Carolina Conference foe Ayden-Grifton, while the top-seeded Tigers play host to Heide Trask -- a team they shut out in early September.
"In the past, the NCHSAA has tried to avoid having conference teams play each other in the first round," said Rosewood coach Daniel Barrow. "But, because of travel (issues) involved, they've done away with that. Unlike basketball, very seldom in the game of football do you get to play an opponent twice."
Spring Creek, which earned its sixth consecutive playoff berth, drew the No. 10 seed. The Gators are the guest of fourth-seeded Pender in 1-AA action.
The Association shipped six eastern teams to the west to help complete the 16-team 1-A (small-school) bracket. Princeton travels to Hobbton, while Carolina Conference tri-champion North Duplin (8-2) entertains South Robeson.
North Duplin athletics director Ken Avent Sr. announced that the Rebels' game has been moved to Thursday since Duplin County schools are not in session on Friday. Game time is 7:30 p.m. at H.E. Grubbs Field and admission is $6.
Avent Sr. said booster club passes would not be honored at the gate.
The fourth-seeded Rebels (8-2) are making their sixth consecutive postseason appearance and 24th overall in school history since 1972. North Duplin claimed its first conference championship since 2001 and fifth overall since 1974.
South Robeson at North Duplin
CALYPSO -- First-year head coach Hugh Martin and his coaching staff didn't anticipate winning the Carolina title, especially after a loss at North Johnston. But the Rebels regrouped and carry a four-game win streak into the postseason.
"We mention to the players at times (the league title) as a goal for the season, but we really didn't emphasize that winning the conference as the only thing to accomplish this season," said Martin. "We focused on improving ourselves and trying to get better during the practices each week. There has been no talk in terms of wins and losses.
"We're ready to get started on the next part of the season here."
South Robeson enters 3-8, but its overall record is a little misleading. The Mustangs compete in the split 1-A/2-A Southeastern Conference, which includes East Bladen -- the No. 3 seed in the 1-AA portion of the playoffs.
Martin said the Mustangs have athleticism and speed, and challenge opposing defenses with their spread-gun offensive scheme. They try to get matchups that work best to their advantage and depend upon three skilled offensive players -- quarterback Charles Anderson, running back Raheem Breeden and Vincent McLean. McLean has just returned to the lineup.
"We'll look at what they like to run the most and try to replicate it in practice the best we can," said Martin. "We can't replicate speed, but just try to get ourselves in the right space defensively, and make some plays."
The Mustangs run a 6-2 package on defense, but Martin anticipates seeing a variety of fronts. Doug Lloyd is the Rebels' top offensive performer with nearly 1,800 yards rushing and passing combined, and 18 touchdowns. Michael Schilling has 971 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Lloyd's top two receivers are Ryan Killette (375 yards, three TDs) and Demetrius Vann (318 yards).
It's the second playoff meeting between the two schools. South Robeson won 58-0 in 1997.
Six turnovers and a special teams breakdown -- a kickoff return for a touchdown -- proved costly for the Eagles in the Carolina Conference opener on Oct. 6. The Chargers capitalized on the miscues and walked away from Branch Pope Field with a three-touchdown win.
Injuries also plagued Rosewood in the loss. Fullback Chris Holmes missed the game due to a concussion and tailback Devon Bennett did not return the second half. Holmes is playing at full tilt now and Bennett is expected to see action this week.
Bennett has 667 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns this season. Quarterback Josh Myers has accounted for 1,530 yards rushing and passing combined, and 19 total touchdowns. Stephen McIntyre has emerged the top receiver with 339 yards and four touchdowns on 15 catches.
"We'll check Devon out and see if he's ready to go," said Barrow. "Other than the customary nicks and bruises you have this time of the season, everybody is healthy going into the game.
"We know each other very well and it gives us a chance to redeem ourselves against them. The boys are excited about it."
Rosewood (6-5) is seeking its first playoff win since 2003.
Princeton at Hobbton
PRINCETON -- Russell Williamson wasn't sure about the rumor mill.
He kept hearing the Bulldogs might have a shot at qualifying, but wasn't sure based on his team's winless conference record. And if his team did get an at-large bid, the worst fear was taking another all-day trip to Cherokee.
Princeton is in, but has to travel to Newton Grove in the opening round. Game time has been moved to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, according to PHS athletics director Al Musgrave.
"We're glad to be going," said Williamson, who is taking his second team to the playoffs. "We feel like we're a pretty good 2-9 team right now. We've come a long way from last year and we've come a long way this year, especially the second half of the season.
"We feel like we've made a lot of progress, but it might not look like it."
Gerrell Bogle is close to the 1,000-yard mark after a strong effort last week against Rosewood. The 5-foot-10, 176-pound senior has collected 920 yards on 222 carries.
Quarterback Matt Blackwell returned to the lineup after nearly a month-long absence and threw for 158 yards against the Eagles. Blackwell boosted his season totals to 528 yards and three touchdowns.
Princeton is making its first postseason appearance since 2002 and ninth overall in school history since 1972.
"We're right at the top of that hill, but we've got to get over it," said Williamson. "We've made a lot of improvement we feel like over the last two years."
Hobbton is 8-3 overall.
Heide Trask at
WARSAW -- Coming off an emotional victory against archrival Wallace-Rose Hill, the unbeaten and state-ranked Tigers (11-0) must refocus as the stakes get higher this week.
"If you play bad this week and lose, that's it," said first-year Kenan coach Ken Avent Jr. "It's totally different pressure on you. We're going to keep doing what we are doing, but emphasize how important it is to come out ready to play."
In their previous meeting, Kenan played sluggish and needed at least one half to adjust to Trask's option offense. Avent Jr.'s team held a scant one-touchdown lead at halftime, and eventually prevailed 20-0.
"They've got some good players and they played us tough," said Avent Jr. "They did a good job against us defensively, and they've got a little quick quarterback (Justin Bland) that's tough."
Stedman Mathis and Brandon Satchell have combined for 1,421 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns. Kenan's defense has a plus-12 turnover ratio.
The Tigers held the Titans to 189 yards of total offense in their previous meeting. Kenan leads the all-time series 4-0, and the last three meetings have resulted in shutouts.
Trask is 2-8.
SEVEN SPRINGS -- Spring Creek is 0-5 in the postseason.
Pender played just four 1-A teams on its schedule and fashioned a 7-4 record in the split 1-A/2-A Waccamaw Conference.
"They've got a real good fullback who is pretty tough and has gained about 1,700 yards," said Gators coach Roy Whitfield. "They don't throw the ball a whole lot, but the quarterback is pretty active."
The Patriots run a one-back set, but also utilize the option on offense.
The Gators have been plagued by turnovers in recent weeks and have endured shutouts in three of their last four outings.
"We've got to do what we had intentions of doing all year and that's control the football, not put it on the ground like we've been doing and stop the other team from making the big plays," said Whitfield.
Pender, according to Whitfield, appears to be more of a ball-possession team. However, the Gators must play disciplined on defense and not get lulled to sleep since the Patriots prefer a steady diet of fullback plays. The quarterback is capable of keeping the ball and breaking loose at any time.
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