Fairmont (4-4, 1-1) at Red Springs (5-3, 2-0)
Coaches: FMT — James Atkinson; RS — George Coltharp.
Recent history: Fairmont has won three straight games in the series, including a memorable 40-34 overtime victory last season that ultimately decided the Three Rivers Conference.
What to watch: How will Fairmont’s front seven handle the best offense it has faced this season? The Golden Tornadoes’ senior class has never loss to the Red Devils and is viewing this game as its “Super Bowl” this week and rightfully so. Without the luxury of playoff aspirations, this is as big as it gets for Fairmont. Two of the last four games in this friendly rivalry have gone to overtime with the kicking game playing a pivotal role in both. Red Springs’ defense is steadily improving and that could spell trouble for Fairmont if quarterback Jarrod Neal can’t go with an injured ankle. The Golden Tornadoes have athletes on that side of the ball, too.
Keep an eye on: Red Springs quarterback Blake Greene who is primed to bounce back from last season’s four-interception game at Fairmont. He’s had this one circled since that night.
St. Pauls (6-2, 1-1) at East Columbus (4-4, 1-1)
Coaches: STP — Trey Sasser; EC — Toby Kasell.
Recent history: The Bulldogs have won consecutive games over the Gators since a 50-21 loss in 2009. What to watch: St. Pauls bounced back against South Robeson last week on defense, pummeling the Mustangs’ offensive line while allowing less than 35 yards on the ground. Protecting against the run is a necessity this week against a squad equipped with a number of steady ball-carriers. St. Pauls continues to struggle against the pass, but East Columbus doesn’t throw it often. The winner of this game likely secures the conference’s second seed in the state playoffs barring upsets the last two regular season games. Outside of Gray’s Creek and Red Springs, this is St. Pauls’ toughest game to date.
Keep an eye on: The Gator offense starts with quarterback Ricky Ratliff, a playmaker who led a pair of scoring drives last week against Red Springs. Ratliff threw a 30-yard touchdown pass and delivered a 40-yard run in the second quarter to highlight his outing.
Richmond (7-0, 2-0) at Lumberton (4-3, 0-2)
Coaches: RC — Paul Hoggard; LHS — Mike Brill.
Recent history: The Raiders have dominated this series all-time, but the Pirates have kept it close the last three games, losing by an average of 14.3 points.
What to watch: Lumberton takes the “us against the world” mentality into this week’s game against the Raiders, similar to what Purnell Swett tried in last week’s home bout. Depending on who you ask, Richmond is the state’s most talented team and could certainly finish the regular season unbeaten in its quest for another state championship. With their backs to the wall, the Pirates could be dangerous. Lumberton’s ball-control offense hasn’t been as steady as its needed to be the last two games thanks to turnovers. One thing you don’t want to do as the underdog is turn the ball over.
Keep an eye on: Jermaine Williams, Lumberton’s most dynamic pass rusher along the Pirates’ front seven. If he’s able to continuously disrupt Richmond’s option attack, the Raiders would be on upset alert on the road.
Pinecrest (4-4, 1-1) at Purnell Swett (2-5, 0-2)
Coaches: PC — Chris Metzger; PS — Mark Heil.
Recent history: The last three games in this SEC rivalry have been decided by eight total points. Swett’s lone win came in 2010 in Pembroke.
What to watch: If history is any indication, this game will come down to who has the ball last or makes a crucial stop. The Rams are struggling, but they do match up well defensively against Pinecrest’s run-heavy offense. Juan Ellerbe and Jeremiah Swett must get something going early for the Rams’ offense to keep the Patriots from turning it into a clock-eating affair with few possessions. If Swett has trouble playing its assignments, the Rams could be in for a long night. Pinecrest remains very much alive in the SEC race with a win in Pembroke. The Patriots travel to Rockingham next week before finishing up with Hoke County. Swett’s Andrew Hill may miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury. He did not play in last week’s loss to Richmond.
Keep an eye on: Juan Ellerbe, Swett’s junior running back who becomes the featured option in the backfield in Hill’s absence. Ellerbe was kept quiet last week by Richmond’s defensive line, but he should have more room to operate Friday against Pinecrest.
West Columbus (4-4, 1-1) at South Robeson (2-5, 0-2)
Coaches: WC — Mark Little; SR — Stephen Roberson.
Recent history: South Robeson has beaten West Columbus once since 2005, a 24-6 home win three years ago.
What to watch: These programs — combined — managed just four wins the last two seasons. This fall, they’ve bested that mark by two games with five remaining. Little and Roberson have proved to be excellent first-year coaches at both schools and this one likely decides a playoff berth. South Robeson’s struggles at home are well-documented but the Mustangs did nearly knock off Fairmont during their last game in Rowland. South Robeson only sustained two drives of six or more snaps against St. Pauls in last week’s loss, so that will need to improve against the Vikings. Both teams offer a ground-and-pound attack on offense and take occasional shots down the field.
Keep an eye on: South Robeson’s Jay Couser, a weapon that hasn’t been utilized enough on offense this season. When Couser has gotten his hands on the football and had blocking, however, he’s made big plays.