3-A playoff preview: County teams face stern, opening-round tests
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 9, 2006 1:47 PM
A state runner-up.
A run-oriented, high-scoring offense.
A battle-tested team.
County rivals Eastern Wayne, Southern Wayne and Charles B. Aycock encounter those situations -- respectively -- when the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 3-A playoffs kick off Friday.
The Warriors, who are making their second postseason appearance with head coach Jeff Price, travel to perennial power Burlington Williams. Williams fell to Charlotte Catholic in the 3-AA (large-school) finals a year ago.
"They're always going to be well-prepared, well-coached and they play with you because they play to win," said Price. "It's going to be a real treat to go up there."
The injury-riddled Saints travel to Hertford County, and have the task of containing two 1,000-yard backs -- Rayshawn Mercer and Danny Dembry. The duo has combined for 25 touchdowns in a misdirection offense that piles up 41.5 points an outing.
"They're a solid team and don't really have any weaknesses," said Southern Wayne coach Bob Warren. "They do everything well in the films that we've seen. We saw them in a preseason scrimmage and I thought they were good even at the early stages of the season.
"It's a big challenge for us."
The Golden Falcons head south toward Myrtle Beach for a date with West Brunswick. The teams are nearly mirror images of each other and head coach Randy Pinkowski considers that a silver lining in what has been a dark cloud hovering above his team the last two weeks.
Aycock started 5-0, but has dropped four of its last six contests.
"I think we got a great draw," said Pinkowski. "We really did from the standpoint of two very similar teams offensively and defensively, and personnel matchup-wise.
"I think it's going to be an exciting football game."
Each game is slated for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
Eastern Wayne at Williams
Price is familiar with the Williams program. Before he took over at Eastern Wayne, Price took one of his Kinston teams to Burlington in the playoffs. He recalled the frenzied atmosphere, but added that Bulldogs played a disciplined game.
"Discipline ... their trademark up there," said Price.
The 10th-seeded Warriors (7-4) carry a modest two-game win streak into the contest. They've had to revamp their offense after a season-ending injury sidelined leading rusher Andrew Blevins.
Kendrick Best emerged the team's go-to player in last week's come-from-behind victory over Kinston. Lamar Lamb, Orlando Midgette and Dwight Ulmer also see time in the backfield.
Best, Ulmer and Lamb have been stalwarts on defense. They're part of a crew that's recorded 20 interceptions -- a program-best under Price's direction.
Price is aware the Warriors will receive stern tests in all phases of the game against Williams, which rarely beats itself. He's also glad he has some familiarity with the Bulldogs' pro-I offense and multiple 43 defense.
"It probably helps knowing that the core philosophy is the same and certainly helps you in preparation," said Price. "It's going to be a major task."
So. Wayne at Hertford County
Warren said the 15th-seeded Saints (6-5) must put together two very good halves of football to upset the second-seeded Bears on the 3-A (small-school) scene. He certainly hopes last week's second-half defensive performance against Aycock wasn't a flash in the pan.
Southern Wayne negated the Golden Falcons' big-play capability and contained Dontay Taylor. Taylor managed just 17 yards in the third and fourth quarters combined.
"We've gotten better on defense as we've closed out the regular season," said Warren. "We just have to carry that momentum over we had from the Aycock game.
"Again, defensively, we can't give up the big play and must get to the football."
Offensively, the Saints need to sustain their blocks and limit turnovers against the Bears, who own a size advantage at nearly every position on the defensive side of the ball.
"Our wing-T gives us an advantage of angle blocks, which is one of the reasons we run this offense," said Warren. "With angle blocks, you can sometimes get by with not having as big athletes as the other team."
Warren said that fullback Kelvin Flow is questionable for the game. Flow sustained an ankle injury on the first drive of the second half against Aycock, and did not return. Tristan Bass and Eric Futrell, along with a corps of JV players, will be called upon to tote the pigskin this week.
Bass racked up nearly 200 yards against the Golden Falcons.
C.B. Aycock at West Brunswick
Cleaning up fourth-down plays has been the Golden Falcons' main focus in practice this week.
A partially-blocked punt and roughing the kicker on a field-goal try proved crucial in a road loss at Eastern Wayne. Aycock uncharacteristically jumped offsides three times on fourth down in last week's road loss at Southern Wayne.
"I preach with my kids about being perfect on fourth down and those mistakes have really cost us," said Pinkowski, whose team is 7-4 overall and seeded 14th in the 3-AA playoffs.
Pinkowski says the third-seeded Trojans are almost a carbon copy of the Golden Falcons, and reminds him of Wilson Hunt -- not individually big and strong, but similar on offensive sets and personnel.
Thankfully, there are no 300-pound linemen to block.
West Brunswick, which plays in the split 3-A/4-A Mideastern Conference with the Wilmington schools, utilizes a two-back offense. They show a 4-3 front on defense.
"I think they are one-dimensional," said Pinkowski. "It's nice that we're not going to see something completely different. We've seen just about everything in our conference."
Aycock will counter with its most-prolific offense since Pinkowski arrived in Pikeville eight summers ago.
Senior quarterback Thomas Pilkington is approaching the 2,000-yard mark and Taylor is past the 1,500-yard plateau. Montez Ham is closing in on 800 yards receiving.
Defensively, senior linebacker Travis Milligan has posted a team- and area-leading 142 tackles along with 1.5 sacks. Jacob Pendleton has 59 tackles, while Erik Taylor has 51 stops and two sacks.
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