Athens Drive (3-1) at Lumberton (3-1)
Coaches: AD — Chris Martin; LHS — Mike Brill.
Recent history: Lumberton captured a hard-fought 22-14 win last season in Raleigh.
What to watch: Chris Martin took over for former Lumberton coach Jeff Smouse this season at Athens Drive after five years as the Jaguars’ defensive coordinator. Athens Drive is already 2-0 in the Tri-Nine Conference and boast a balanced offense under veteran quarterback Jason West. Lumberton has rebounded from its first loss of the season with back-to-back wins and posts one of the toughest defenses Athens Drive will face this fall. In the past, the Pirates have fared well against spread offenses and at home, Lumberton is tough to beat.
Keep an eye on: Brad Bowling, a senior wide receiver who also takes snaps under center and at running back. Bowling threw a 59-yard touchdown pass on an option trick play in last week’s win over Green Hope.
Red Springs (3-1) at Sun Valley (2-2)
Coaches: RS — George Coltharp; SV — Scott Stein.
Recent history: The Red Devils are making the 120-mile trek to Monroe for the second consecutive year as part of a two-season deal. Red Springs lost to the Spartans last season, 52-3.
What to watch: Sun Valley is gunning for its third consecutive win after playing arguably the state’s toughest 4A schedule to open this season. The Spartans’ 2012 campaign began with a 55-21 loss to Richmond County followed by a 52-point defeat to Marquez North and Mallard Creek. Wideout Jody Fuller’s departure to South Carolina is a notable loss for Sun Valley, but Stein, a 28-year vet in the coaching ranks, has plenty of talent capable of filling the void. Depth will be a concern for Red Springs against a program with twice the number of football players. The Red Devils are content on staying healthy in preparation for the real start of the season: Sept. 28 against St. Pauls.
Keep an eye on: For the Red Devils to keep up with the Spartans, quarterback Blake Greene will have to minimize mistakes and make plays when the openings are there. With the focus of Sun Valley’s 4-3 defense, Red Springs’ passing game may decide the outcome.
South Robeson (2-2) at Purnell Swett (1-3)
Coaches: SR — Stephen Roberson; PS — Mark Heil.
Recent history: The Rams haven’t allowed a touchdown against the Mustangs in 10 of the last 12 quarters, outscoring South Robeson 142-0 during that span.
What to watch: Swett coach Mark Heil says the Rams are worried about themselves this week against the smaller, less-talented Mustangs. That doesn’t mean the rivalry game against South Robeson won’t be difficult however, according to Heil. While a victory would go down as one of the program’s best wins in a decade, South Robeson is viewing Friday night as just another game says coach Stephen Roberson. The Mustangs took a step back at home last week against Southern Lee after posting consecutive victories. Owning the time of possession and turnover battle is South Robeson’s game plan against the struggling Rams.
Keep an eye on: Wide receiver Thomas Hunt who has three touchdowns — on four receptions — for the Rams this season. He’s a threat on the outside and against South Robeson’s undersized corners, should be able to create mismatches in the passing game.
Ashley (1-3) at Fairmont (2-2)
Coaches: ASH — Tom Eanes; FMT — James Atkinson.
Recent history: Despite giving up 296 yards rushing, Fairmont escaped Ashley last season with a 20-17 victory.
What to watch: Fairmont will have to stop Ashley’s option this week without four of its best players who are serving the first of a two-game suspension for last week’s brawl against Lake View, S.C. An area of concern for the Golden Tornadoes is the line of scrimmage where the Eagles, a 4A school, have more size and strength. Ashley running back Quincy Rhodes has 476 yards rushing and four touchdowns over the last three games. In his team’s win over Trask, Rhodes picked 264 yards on the ground. He’s the best back Fairmont has faced this season.
Keep an eye on: Fairmont’s new starters up front. If the Golden Tornadoes want to stay competitive in lieu of last week’s suspensions, new faces on both sides of the ball must adjust quickly Friday night.
St. Pauls (3-1) at Harrells Christian (2-1)
Coaches: STP — Trey Sasser; HC — Brian Aldridge.
Recent history: St. Pauls lost last year’s first-ever meeting at home, 51-28.
What to watch: Coming off a 56-14 victory over Cannon, Harrells Christian is led by senior fullback Russell Washington. Washington rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 38 touchdowns last season in the NCISAA ranks. St. Pauls comes back from a season-high 76-point effort in last week’s win over West Bladen and show no signs of slowing down offensively. The Bulldogs’ production in the passing game, rushing attack and on the outside ranks near the top of the county in every category. St. Pauls will continue its rapid no-huddle this week against a defense that hasn’t seen as much talent as the Bulldogs possess this season.
Keep an eye on: Harrells Christian’s Russell Washington and Channing Kelly, two veteran ball-carriers that combined for 413 yards rushing last week.