11/29/07 — Leopards' McWhorter, Williams pose challenge for North Duplin

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Leopards' McWhorter, Williams pose challenge for North Duplin

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on November 29, 2007 1:50 PM

CALYPSO -- Focus on where you're headed, but don't forget where you've been.

That's the task top-seeded North Duplin faces this week as it prepares to host third-seeded Lakewood for the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 1-A (small school) western regional title. The winner earns a trip to Raleigh next weekend.

The Rebels hope to be that team after falling to eventual state champion Elkin in last year's regional championship.

"Last year we weren't expected to be there," Rebels head coach Hugh Martin said. "We were coming off a physical game against Cherokee, and it was our second long trip in a row. This year's been a little different in that we've been able to play at home.

"I think a lot of our players have last year in the back of their mind, and they want to give us one more shot at the next one. I think it's been a point of motivation for them."

Lakewood (10-4 overall) enters the game on the heels of back-to-back, one-point victories against South Stanly (22-21) and Robbinsville (14-13). The Leopards eliminated South Robeson 16-12 in the opening round.

The Rebels' defense, which allows less than seven points a game and has posted four shutouts, will face perhaps the most versatile quarterback it's seen all season. The Leopards' Eric Williams, a senior dual-threat signal caller in Lakewood's spread offense, has shown the ability to cause opposing defenses distress either by running or throwing the football

His 27-yard touchdown run with less than a minute to play helped Lakewood escape Robbinsville in round two. He threw a 26-yard touchdown pass in the closing minutes last week, which set up the game-winning, two-point conversion.

Senior fullback Jermell McWhorter (5-foot-7, 198 pounds), who reportedly has been nursing a sore ankle the last few weeks, is a bruising back who prefers to pound away at defensive lines rather than try and turn the corner. For an offense that's averaging less than 18 points a ballgame, Williams and McWhorter will have to be successful against the Rebels' stingy defense which yielded just 90 yards -- rushing and passing combined -- to East Wilkes a week ago.

"Offensively, their fullback and quarterback have done well lately," Martin said. "They're a tough combo. We haven't seen a fullback that runs as powerful, and their quarterback is the most athletic we'll have seen all year."

Mental mistakes and turnovers have been a recurring theme for North Duplin on offense this season. The Rebels have averaged close to 100 yards in penalties per game and they've committed six turnovers in three postseason victories.

"We've had different types of penalties," Martin said. "It makes it that much tougher offensively and defensively when you get behind the sticks, it throws off everything else you're trying to do. This past week I think it was more anxiousness, with people trying to get a jump-start off the ball."

Opposing defenses, turnovers and penalties may have been able to slow down quarterback Doug Lloyd and the Rebels' offense at times, but shutting it down has been a completely different story.

North Duplin continues to average 32 points a game, and has averaged just over 28 points in its three playoff wins. Lloyd has run or thrown for over 100 yards in each of the past three weeks. In facing a Leopards defense that yields 14 points a ballgame, limiting mistakes and establishing momentum on offense will be pivotal for the Rebels.

"Lakewood is playing real well. They have an excellent defense," Martin said. "Their defensive line has good size, and their linebackers run to the ball real well. We've got to be more consistent."