The Three Rivers Conference champions and winners of six straight games are seeking their second straight trip to the third round.
“We’re just trying to earn another Monday, man,” Coltharp said. “We want to still be playing this time next week.”
In the playoff opener, Pender (6-5) gashed perennial power Wallace-Rose Hill for 384 yards on the ground and avenged a previous loss to the Bulldogs with an emphatic 40-20 road victory. Wallace-Rose Hill put an end to the Red Devils’ banner 2011 campaign, but the Patriots spoiled whatever chances the two teams had of meeting again in these playoffs with a smashmouth option attack.
Over the last three games, Red Springs (9-3) has played well against run-first competition. In last year’s postseason, however, Wallace-Rose Hill’s option flattened the Red Devils and forced Red Springs into six turnovers playing from behind. Pender utilizes a similar scheme and tries to pound opponents at the line of scrimmage.
“We’ve been practicing with three footballs this week,” Coltharp said. ” Every part of the option is getting hit.”
Wallace-Rose Hill’s early exit marked the first time in four years that the Bulldogs were eliminated in the first round. Pender’s momentum-building win was its first victory in six games against the perennial Tri-County power.
“We pretty much stuck with our script,” second-year Pender coach Tony Hudson told the Wilmington Star-News. “We just played our brand of ball. We didn’t try and do anything tricky. We were able to win it in the trenches.”
As a fifth-place conference finisher who made the playoffs as a wild-card, Pender’s defense has steadily improved since the Patriots suffered their fourth loss of the season on Sept. 28 at unbeaten James Kenan. Pender has won four of its last five games and held opponents to just 15.6 points per game. Traditionally, teams rarely throw in the the Tri-County Conference, instead relying on a bevy of running backs to shoulder the offensive burden.
Led by quarterback Nicky Wells and fullback Sam Dixon, a combination of clock-eating drives and stops on defense has been Pender’s calling card this season.
“I’m looking at film and there’s maybe four shotgun formations they run out of 300 snaps,” Coltharp said. “So we have an idea of what they’ll do offensively. On defense, it’s a little more of a guessing game. The challenge for them will be trying to stop an offense they haven’t seen much of during the season.”
Red Springs’ Air Raid has been nearly unstoppable since a midseason loss at Goldsboro that featured injuries to Blake Greene and JuJu Brown. During the Red Devils’ current six-game winning streak, Greene has been responsible for 30 touchdowns on a unit averaging 46 points per contest. Last week against Midway, Red Springs had just 29 snaps on offense but managed 334 yards.
“Dance with the one that brings you is what I tend to say,” Coltharp said. “As you go deeper in the playoffs, teams you face only get better and they don’t change what they do offensively. Neither will we.”