ST. PAULS — With the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs two weeks away, St. Pauls’ playoff life is on the line, and that has changed the normal approach for the next two weeks to that of a greater sense of urgency.
“We told everybody that every week is like a playoff week and we’ve got to play like that to get into the playoffs,” said St. Pauls coach Ernest King. “This is a big game and Whiteville is a very good team. They are fast and execute their game plan well.”
St. Pauls (5-4, 5-2 TRC) travels to Whiteville (8-1, 6-1 TRC) needing to win out or at least win one of the two games left to get a postseason bid. The Bulldogs are coming off a 55-28 win over West Bladen.
In the win over the Knights, St. Pauls quarterback Noah Wheeler had a career-high seven touchdowns with six scores coming on the ground. In the last three weeks following the South Columbus loss the Bulldogs have went more run-heavy with the playcalling, and King said it is based on the opposing team, along with what works for his team.
“It’s shrinking the playbook to what Noah does well. We prepare to throw when they give it to us, and run when they give it to us,” he said. “We are eliminating the mistakes and turnovers by shortening the playbook.”
Through the last few weeks, the Bulldogs have had injuries to several players, and the bruised and battered team is looking for its depth to once again play a big part in its game plan.
“We prepare all our guys each week. Our motto is ‘next man up’ and we emphasis playing physical for 48 minutes, no mater who is out there,” King said.
Last year, Whiteville topped St. Pauls 41-20, and comes in riding a six-game win streak.
“We’ve got to take what we can and stop the big play,” King said. “We stress eliminating the big plays, doing what we are supposed to do and make them drive. If someone is going to score, they have to be more physical than we are.”
West Columbus at Red Springs
The Red Devils come in off an emotional 18-12 overtime win over rival Fairmont, and in good shape to make the state playoffs, but can’t look past a winless West Columbus (0-9, 0-7 TRC) team. With another rival in St. Pauls waiting on the other side of the game against the Vikings, Red Springs (6-3, 4-3 TRC) will look to take care of business, much like it did against East Columbus earlier this year.
This could be the last time that defensive seniors Jerome Bass and Nichorie West will play in front of a home crowd, and the Red Springs defense faces a favorable matchup going up against an offense that is averaging less than seven points per game. The U.S. Army Golden Knights will parachute into the game pregame.
Scotland at Lumberton
Coming in averaging 27 points per game the last two games, the Pirates have had no trouble putting up points against Pinecrest and Richmond, but the defense has not slowed down opponents enough for the offense to keep up. The talent level takes a step up this week as Sandhills Athletic Conference-leading Scotland (7-1, 5-0 SAC) and its powerful offense comes to town.
Lumberton’s (2-7, 1-4 SAC) Braylan Grice has scored nine touchdowns in the last three games, and is facing off opposite with the conference’s leading rusher in Georgia commit Zamir White. White has rushed for 1,400 yards, and Grice is fourth in the league with 815 yards.
Purnell Swett at Hoke
Something’s got to give on Friday as the two winless teams in the Sandhills Athletic Conference meet in Raeford. The Rams (3-6, 0-5 SAC) and Hoke (0-9, 0-5 SAC) have had their fair share of woes the past few weeks in conference play and have their eyes set on the first win in conference play, and for the Bucks the first win of the season.
Purnell Swett hung around with Seventy-First for the first half, but the Falcons scored 28 unanswered in the win. Quarterback Luke Oxendine is second in the conference behind White for total touchdowns with 20.
East Bladen at South Robeson
The middle of a tough three-game stretch to end the season for South Robeson (3-6, 3-4 TRC) comes as East Bladen (8-1, 6-1 TRC) visits looking to keep its second spot in the conference. South Robeson lost by 31 points last week and the Eagles have won five straight after a one-point loss to South Columbus.
East Bladen’s Xavier Wooten comes in second in the conference in rushing with 1,093 yards and 16 touchdowns. The Mustangs’ Darius Wright is coming off a two-touchdown performance and goes against a defense that is allowing on average less than 14 points per game.
Fairmont at East Columbus
With five losses in a row, Fairmont (3-6, 2-5 TRC) looks to close the season strong, starting with a matchup against East Columbus (0-9, 0-7 TRC) that was forced to forfeit last week to East Bladen citing a lack of players.
Leading the Three Rivers Conference is passing yards is quarterback Derrick Arnette with 1,760 yards, and his top three targets are leading the league in receiving yards, with Jordan Waters at the top with 702 yards.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.