The regular season is finally here.
Took long enough, didn’t it?
For every 7-on-7 and scrimmage this summer, one could hear gripes from folks in the stands wanting the real thing. Well, now you’ve got it and the area’s two newest coaches — Lumberton’s Joe Salas and Randy Ragland at Fairmont — are 48 hours away from being indoctrinated into Robeson County football with marquee homes games at their respective programs.
Salas and Ragland share similar philosophies, a preference to throwing the football over keeping it on the ground. North Carolina coaching legend Bob Paroli used to say there are three things that can happen when a team calls a pass play and two of them are bad.
Salas and Ragland disregard that notion and they’ve had success doing so.
The Air Raid for both the Pirates and Golden Tornadoes will be unleashed Friday night against Douglas Byrd and East Bladen, two teams with a history of beating up on their out-of-county rivals. East Bladen has beaten Fairmont 11 straight times while Byrd has taken care of business against Lumberton 11 of the last 12 meetings.
Will recent dominance change? That’s why these two coaches were brought in by the powers that be, to change the face of Lumberton and Fairmont football and push these programs past the first few rounds of the state playoffs and challenge for conference championships.
White Oak at Red Springs
Robeson County’s top-ranked squad in the preseason poll gets a surprise home game after White Oak’s decision to switch sites due to a saturated field. The 3A program from Jacksonville’s in a football-rich area, but it doesn’t appear the Vikings have the confidence right now coming off a 10-loss season. If you haven’t faced an offense as quick as the one George Coltharp utilizes at Red Springs, it’s difficult to game plan against. White Oak’s secondary will get tested early by Blake Greene’s right arm.
Red Springs 44, White Oak 12
St. Pauls at Gray’s Creek
Is St. Pauls this year’s breakout team in the area after a 9-4 finish in 2012? Head coach Trey Sasser says the Bulldogs could be better, but a lot of things need to fall into place for a special season. Starting with the defense, St. Pauls has to improve. Plagued by big plays against the run in last year’s matchup with Gray’s Creek, the Bulldogs couldn’t keep up in the second-half shootout. Don’t expect much difference on Friday night, especially this early in the season against a Wing-T attack that David Lovette’s nearly perfected in Hope Mills.
Gray’s Creek 42, St. Pauls 36
East Bladen at Fairmont
Fairmont has looked impressive this summer, quickly buying into to Ragland’s new system and turning the page on last season’s disappointment. The Golden Tornadoes have three running backs capable of all-county seasons — Quenton Walker, Derrick Baker and Cedrique Baldwin — and are led by a senior quarterback with several starts under his belt. We haven’t even touched on the talent at wideout and the team’s size up front. Fairmont will only be as good as its defense performs however and a Week 1 tilt with East Bladen’s a good first test.
East Bladen 28, Fairmont 22
Douglas Byrd at Lumberton
Screen passes are an extension of the running game and expect Lumberton to try plenty in Friday’s bout with Douglas Byrd. With junior bruiser Josh Sheridan now at running back, Will Everette opens the Air Raid era at quarterback for the Pirates. Both players will have opportunities to make plays, but standing in their way is a defense that’s one of the most athletic Lumberton will face prior to conference play. Lumberton’s projected strength is its defense, especially the front seven. The Pirates have talked all summer about ‘shocking the world’ and here’s their chance against the preseason favorite in the 3A Cape Fear Valley Conference.
Byrd 30, Lumberton 14
Pine Forest at Purnell Swett
This one’s a challenge for the Rams, likely Swett’s toughest non-conference game this season outside of a home date with New Hanover. The Trojans are loaded up front and return eight total starters on defense off a squad that finished 7-5 in 2012. Swett managed only two first downs against Pine Forest in last year’s opener and ultimately saw its five-game winning streak snapped in the series as a result. Expect negative plays from the Rams early as the offensive line works to try and contain Pine Forest’s fearsome front.
Pine Forest 24, Swett 7
South Robeson at West Bladen
Four wins may qualify a team for the state playoffs, but South Robeson’s goal this season is to not only get back to the postseason in Stephen Roberson’s second campaign, but challenge for a Three Rivers Conference championship. The Mustangs have the skill players to do so, but many questions swirl up front when South Robeson has the football. West Bladen’s lost 19 consecutive games coming in to Friday and one of those defeats snapped the Mustangs’ long losing skid last season.
South Robeson 26, West Bladen 12
Reach staff writer Brad Crawford at 910-272-6119 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.