Follow Friday’s action throughout the county live on Twitter via the hashtag #ROBCOFB.
There’s never a dull moment when you sit down and talk defense with Purnell Swett coach Mark Heil or offense with Red Springs’ George Coltharp. The two bring very different schemes to their respective Robeson County football programs, but share a dominant trait on one important subject — winning. In anticipation of Friday’s rivalry bout between the Rams and Red Devils in Red Springs, here’s what our area’s two most intriguing personalities had to say on locking horns inside the Inferno:
We don’t get to see local rivalry games too often this early in the season, especially the 4A vs. 2A variety. What’s the buzz been like at practice and in the community this week?
HEIL: “Ever since this game’s been put on the schedule, there’s been jibber-jabber and so on between the kids and fans because it’s a Robeson County game. For the players, I think there’s a lot of pride at stake for whoever wins. Red Springs has a chance to get a big win under their belts being a 2A school.”
COLTHARP: “For our seniors, notably Blake (Greene), Markeiss (Blue) and C.J. (McGeachy), it’s a pretty big deal for them. My players know we’re just as important as Lumberton and Purnell, and they want to go out and prove that. We feel like it’s our turn. This is the biggest game of the year for us not because it’s Purnell Swett, but because we’re 0-1 and still have a long way to go in reaching our goals we established before the season.”
Coming off season-opening losses at home, how quickly were you all able to turn the page on Pine Forest and White Oak in preparation for Friday’s game?
HEIL: “We had opportunities to win and that’s what I think the players were disappointed about. Our kicker (Tristan Hunt) hurt his knee in Thursday’s practice and couldn’t play, so we had to go for two when we scored our touchdown. In the second half, we were in field goal range three times and had to go for it. He’s the better kicker I’ve ever had at Swett. Our kids know that we can have a pretty good football team if our offense moves the football and the offensive line continues to improve.”
COLTHARP: “We scored 33 points and we’re talking about having a bad game. That shows how far we’ve come as a program. I can give you 15 reasons why we should’ve won the game, but we didn’t and we’ve moved on. We watched 10 minutes of (White Oak) film before Monday’s practice, then forgot about it and started preparing for Swett. Things are never as bad, or as good, as they seem.”
Offensive line play will be key in deciding the outcome of Friday’s game. What are some other areas of focus this week and to coach Heil, how do you game plan for Blake Greene?
HEIL: “Red Springs presents a challenge for us offensively because Greene’s quite a talent. He’s very crafty and he knows where and when to throw the football. He finds open areas. Their offense is so fast-paced that it’s hard to get a hand on him and he’s elusive. I remember playing St. Pauls a few years ago when we went 10-4 and it was a heck of a game. Red Springs has the athletes to compete and we know that.”
COLTHARP: “It’s a game we really shouldn’t be playing since they’ve got a ton of more kids than us, but just the fact we’re talking about this game being competitive is a testament to our kids and what we’re trying to build here. Heil’s a great coach and he’s been a good one for a long time. We hope our guys don’t get too caught up in the rivalry feel and just go out and play football. Play fast, attack, do what we do best and execute.”
Crowd control could be a problem with both schools in such close proximity. What kind of setting are you expecting just before kickoff?
HEIL: “I’d imagine we’ll bring a crowd. Our fans love their football and they’re always loud. I’d say it’s one of the county’s biggest games (this year). Our players will need to play smart at both ends and don’t get too caught up in it. The less Blake Greene and that offense has the football, the better off we’ll be.”
COLTHARP: “If you’re a football fan in Robeson County, it’s definitely the game you should be at. You’ve got the area’s best defense going up against arguably the best offense. We want to defend our turf and we’re excited the game’s at home. We’ve lost two home games here in three years and one thing I’ve never had here is an 0-2. I don’t mind losing, but I don’t believe in losing streaks.”
Areas of question at both programs right now include the lack of a sustainable offense at Swett with an inexperienced line and Red Springs’ defense against the run. How will those two units fare in Friday’s game?
HEIL: “We’re going to have to get better on offense to have a successful season and our players know that. We only got six first downs against Pine Forest and that won’t be enough to beat Red Springs. We hope to put some drives together and run the football to control some of the clock. We know they’ve got a good offense and ours is struggling right now, but the line did improve in the second half (last week).”
COLTHARP: “We gave up 500 yards rushing (to White Oak), but when you go back and look at the film it was a lot of little things — this kid didn’t close properly or this guy went to the wrong gap. Yesterday’s practice was light, but everybody’s attitude seemed to be pretty good. It’s a lot to ask of a defense against a run team when you lose your running back (Doody Lesane) for the game in the first four minutes. Our defensive guys were on the field too long, maybe got a little tired.”