Prep football is far less predictable than its college and NFL brethren.
Fumbles are common and special teams mistakes routine. Shotgun snaps are often an issue and mysterious penalties find a way to wipe away big plays. These errors are known as equalizers and often makes it more difficult to determine a favorite and an underdog.
One thing is for certain however despite unexpected fallacies from both sides when St. Pauls travels to South Columbus Friday night.
The Stallions will score touchdowns.
Maybe a lot of them.
How many points St. Pauls can counter with will ultimately decide whether or not the Bulldogs are still contenders in the Three Rivers Conference at game’s end during the season’s final stretch.
“We’re just going to see how the pieces fall and hopefully we’ll be able to execute when we need to,” said assistant coach Scott Barbour, whose offense has averaged 38.5 points per game during his 21-game stint at St. Pauls.
It’s just another game for South Columbus (6-2, 4-0), winners of six straight since opening the year with back-to-back losses to Hoggard and Loris, S.C. The Stallions are simply playing out the schedule before their highly-anticipated perceived league championship contest against Whiteville in the regular-season finale.
Friday matters so little that the Stallions scheduled St. Pauls for homecoming.
Easy win right?
“South Robeson invited us for their homecoming too,” said Bulldogs senior Chuck Walters. “We’ve got to come out knowing we can win and everyone has to do what they can.”
Since blowing a coverage inside the 20 for a go-ahead touchdown three weeks ago in a home loss to Whiteville, St. Pauls (6-2, 3-1) has gotten things rolling again on both sides of the ball led by Walters and senior quarterback Malik Livingston.
No longer do the Bulldogs have the luxury of the element of surprise.
Livingston, who hadn’t played quarterback before this season, has scored touchdowns in every game while Walters is coming off a three-score career night. The combination of those two through the air along with tailback Daymien McMillan has helped St. Pauls meet expectations up to this point despite heavy personnel losses off last season’s 9-4 squad.
Friday isn’t the first time the Bulldogs have faced an uphill climb either.
Overmatched in the conference opener, St. Pauls arrived and delivered. The win over previously-unbeaten Fairmont on Sept. 27 proved the Bulldogs were capable of big wins and stopping high-caliber offenses. Coming into that game, Golden Tornadoes quarterback Jarrod Neal had thrown at least four touchdown passes in all four previous starts and just once had been held under 300 yards.
Much of Neal’s 252-yard effort against the Bulldogs came in the fourth quarter, including both touchdown passes.
St. Pauls coach Trey Sasser commended his secondary after that game and the job his defense did up front. The late-game setback six days later to the Wolfpack tempered expectations a bit and reminded the Bulldogs consistency is a integral part of playing for championships.
“That was some of our best football we’ve played since I’ve been here and our guys are going to have to play at a similar level to beat South Columbus,” Sasser said. “If you don’t match their physical style of play, you get beat bad. We gained a lot from that loss as far as trying to match other teams physically.
“Our defense has played more physical since the Whiteville game and it’s definitely got to be that way this week or we’ll get beat.”
South Columbus was the unanimous coaches pick to win the conference in the preseason, well almost unanimous since Stallions coach Jake Fonvielle politely refused to vote. His offense features a powerful backfield with ballcarriers that continuously drive their legs for extra yardage.
You see some running backs at the prep level stop at the point of contact, but South Columbus’ stable of playmakers strive to move the sticks. East Columbus found that out the hard way last week after the Stallions piled up 59 first-half points.
South Columbus finished with 450 yards of offense — primarily on the ground — without a turnover, difficult to do at this level. The Stallions are coming off a fourth-round playoff appearance under Fonvielle and have only lost one home after Oct. 1 since 2010.
Against league competition this season, South Columbus is averaging 55 points per game and hasn’t trailed. In their last two contests, the Stallions have scored on touchdowns on all 13 first-half possessions.
“I think we embrace the role as underdogs and the kids seem to have more focus on the road,” Barbour said. “We’ve got an hour and half bus ride for them to clear their minds on Friday (night). We know they’re a good team.”
St. Pauls does have history on its side. The Bulldogs are the only team in Robeson County that’s ever beaten South Columbus, winning 5-of-14 all-time meetings.
“I remember going there my first season as a head coach (in 2007),” Sasser said. “They were winning 14-6 going into the fourth quarter and beat us by three touchdowns.”
Reach staff writer Brad Crawford at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.