PEMBROKE — Between the slow starts and the turnovers in recent weeks, there’s a lot the Purnell Swett football team is trying to clean up ahead of its homecoming game against Jack Britt on Friday.
“We gave the ball away five times last week so our kids have to make no mistakes to be honest,” Purnell Swett coach Jon Sherman said. “Five turnovers, you can’t win games that way.”
Purnell Swett (3-4, 0-3 SAC) is in the midst of a four-game losing streak and Jack Britt (4-3, 2-1 SAC) comes off its 41-20 win over Richmond to set the stage for this meeting with a lot on the line for both teams. This game marked the end of what Sherman called “the gauntlet,” but this begins a new stretch in the ever-tough Sandhills Athletic Conference.
“We are done with that traditional stretch that is the traditionally gauntlet, but we’ve got Jack Britt that is a traditional power,” he said. “They had a down year last year and they started off bad and finished strong. It really comes down to us and them fighting for that playoff spot in our conference.”
Last time out, the Rams turned the ball over five times to Pinecrest, setting up short fields for the Patriots to help build a 24-0 lead. Slow starts like that have came in several of the games for Purnell Swett, even in the early wins.
“It’s just doing what we are supposed to, doing our assignments, doing our situations,” Sherman said. “We have watched the film and it comes down to guys not doing what they are supposed to.”
The offense will be down a key piece for the second week in a row as starting running back Al’Drique Thompson is nursing a knee injury sustained against Scotland. The goal is to have him back by the Hoke game in two weeks. Stepping in will be Deandre Pankey, who led the team in rushing against Richmond and Cameron Oxendine to help out an offense that is averaging 22 points per game in the last four losses, as compared to 40 points per contest in the wins.
The run game will look to chip in and help out quarterback Luke Oxendine and the passing attack that has put up at least two touchdowns through the air in the last three weeks, mainly to receivers Cyran Dial and Chandler Brayboy.
While the offense looks to help itself, it can also help the defense by hold onto the ball better and leave the defense in a tough spot with a short field behind them.
“The defense played well last week, and people don’t see that with 38 points,” Sherman said. “It’s tough for our defense to compete against an offense five to 10 yards already into a situation.”
The Buccaneers passing attack is the main point of focus this week for the Rams’ secondary with junior quarterback Brennan Shortridge and senior Barry Elliot and C.J. Davis are striking up a big-play connection this year. Elliot leads the team with 514 yards and seven touchdowns receiving and is averaging 27 yards per reception.
“Every game they have the deep ball. They throw the ball deep and they come down with it,” Sherman said. “It comes down to if we can defend the deep ball and make them go 80 yards and stop them if we can.”
Along with the passing game, Jack Britt senior tailback Glenn Young has rushed for 654 yards and nine touchdowns.
Last year, the Rams topped Jack Britt, 23-8, in Fayetteville.
East Columbus at South Robeson
The Mustangs look to secure another playoff bid by sweeping the 1A teams in the conference in back-to-back years as they host East Columbus. South Robeson’s (2-5, 2-3 TRC) defense goes up against an East Columbus (0-7, 0-5 TRC) offense that has scored five times this season.
After suffering heartbreak last week at Red Springs, the Mustangs’ offense that was able to move the ball on the ground with Darius Wright and in the air with Tyler Locklear can secure a sixth straight playoff appearance. Wright has rushed for 667 yards in the last five games.
Lumberton at Pinecrest
The Pirates come off a blowout loss to Seventy-First and play their third game on the road this year at Pinecrest that protected its home field last week against Purnell Swett. Lumberton’s (2-5, 1-2 SAC) defense allowed the Falcons to over 500 yards of total offense and now takes on a multi-faceted offense in Pinecrest (4-3, 1-2 SAC) that is balanced running and passing the ball.
Last week on offense, quarterback Braylan Grice accounted for all but 41 yards of the Pirates total offense. Finding a consistent running back to open up the offense has been a main concern of the Pirates going forward.
Fairmont at South Columbus
The Golden Tornadoes gave a fight to Three Rivers Conference power East Bladen after facing a 35-14 deficit with four minutes left, and the road doesn’t get any easier. Fairmont (3-4, 2-3 TRC) now takes on conference-leading South Columbus (7-0, 5-0 TRC) that handled every opponent it has faced with ease, outside of the Eagles.
Quarterback Derrick Arnette accounted for four touchdowns last week at East Bladen, two of which came during the comeback and leads the county in passing yards this season with 1,438 and had tossed 14 touchdowns with all but two going to Jordan Waters and Jayvon Morris.
Red Springs at Whiteville
The Red Devils have won back-to-back games for the second time this season and travel to Whiteville that has won four straight in a meeting of two of the hottest teams in the Three Rivers Conference. Whiteville (6-1, 4-1 TRC) has not slowed down since falling in its conference opener against East Bladen and takes on Red Springs (4-3, 3-2 TRC) that’s defense slowed down a talented running attack last week.
After a quiet performance last week, Red Springs running back Lee McLean eyes a rebound performance against a talented Wolfpack defense, while Jerome Bass and the defense is tasked with slowing down Ty Moss’ Whiteville offense.
East Bladen at St. Pauls
East Bladen pulled out a win over Fairmont, and takes on a team in St. Pauls that played on the same level as Fairmont three weeks ago. East Bladen (6-1, 4-1 TRC) takes on three teams in the bottom of the conference to close the year, and St. Pauls (4-3, 4-1 TRC) is arguably the biggest hurdle left to stay a game back of South Columbus for the conference lead.
Noah Wheeler and Caleb Inman kept the Bulldogs’ offense rolling last week with five rushing touchdowns and over 200 yards on the ground against West Columbus.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.