HOT: South Robeson’s confidence level. All season, the Mustangs have looked like a different team under first-year coach Stephen Roberson, a squad ready for war each and every Friday night. Perhaps South Robeson’s most impressive feat this season has been its ability to main composure despite several obstacles — long losing streaks, depth concerns — crippling the program. Friday’s triple-overtime win against West Columbus was great for the fanbase, but especially the players. Homecoming hasn’t been kind to the Mustangs in recent years, but last week changed that.
NOT: Lumberton’s proficiency against the run. The Pirates have lost three straight games since going 4-1 in non-conference play to put their playoff hopes in question. The problem? Lumberton’s prowess at stopping its opponent’s running game has ended, proved in large part that past two games. In a 35-7 loss to Hoke County, the Pirates gave up more than 300 yards rushing despite limiting highly-touted back Detrez Newsome to just 3.1 yards per carry. Last week against Richmond, the upset-minded Pirates couldn’t maintain a halftime lead because of the Raiders’ rushing expertise in the second half. Lumberton missed tackles, the defense got tired and Richmond’s Diquon Cox finished with a career-high 236 yards on the ground.
SCORCHING: Reigning county offensive player of the year Blake Greene. Since being knocked out of a game last month at Goldsboro, Greene has led Red Springs to a 3-0 record in conference play with 12 total touchdowns and only two turnovers. He’s established a new go-to target in reliable senior Zach Leach and hasn’t had to use his legs as much this season. Greene’s on pace to shatter last season’s 42-touchdown mark and with two more victories, will lead the Red Devils to their first conference championship in eight years. Greene’s 30 touchdown passes this season leads all juniors and ranks second in the state behind Wakefield’s Connor Mitch, a South Carolina commit.
ICE COLD: St. Pauls’ swagger. Whatever momentum the Bulldogs had coming into the Three Rivers Conference has evaporated over the last three weeks. A win at South Robeson sandwiched between blowout losses to Red Springs and East Columbus have ended St. Pauls’ shot at a league title and further exposed a defense giving up just over 36.1 points per game. Remember that offensive mojo the first two months of the season? St. Pauls turned it over five times last week against East Columbus and three fumbles were returned for touchdowns.
HOT: Red Springs’ defense. As a whole, this unit is playing lights outs against the Three Rivers Conference. The Red Devils’ first team D limited St. Pauls’ 55.1-point-per-game offense to two touchdowns, suffocated East Columbus’ three-headed rushing attack and would’ve held Fairmont scoreless if it wasn’t for a fumble return touchdown and safety. Mike Graham leads the area in sacks with 10.5, C.J. McGeachey is the team’s top player in the secondary and Byron Locklear has taken the reigns as the defense’s most efficient at creating turnovers. Ron Cook’s often-blitzing scheme has taken opposing offenses out of their comfort zones and forces quarterbacks to make plays. And over the last three weeks, most haven’t.
NOT: Special teams play. Punts whiffed, repeated onside kick recoveries, snaps heaved out of the back of the end zone. Everything bad that can happen has happened this season for all parties. Lumberton’s Jace Ward and Red Springs’ Hayden Bannick are the only reliable kickers in the area. Most teams don’t even attempt PATs. In an area of football that usually offers up a momentum-changing turnover or decides the outcome in a close game, special teams play has been sloppy county-wide.
HOT: Lumberton’s fight. Depleted by injuries amidst a three-game losing streak, Lumberton has gone with a different stating lineup more often than not this season. And still, the Pirates have contended and had chances to win in the top heavy SEC. You know Mike Brill’s teams are going to compete and with that mindset, Lumberton nearly pulled off an improbable upset at home Friday against Richmond. A game-changing interception return for a touchdown was called back and the defense never recovered. Would the outcome have been different if the Pirates were at full strength? We’ll never know.
NOT: Purnell Swett’s offense. The Rams’ last offensive touchdown came in the second half against South Robeson more than a month ago. In six games against 4A competition this season, Swett has mustered just three offensive touchdowns. The Rams have sorely missed two-time all-county players Chase Armstrong and Juan Jones in the offensive backfield and haven’t had success holding onto the football this fall. It hasn’t helped that Swett has played one of the toughest schedules in the state with four of six losses coming to ranked teams.