For the first time in the history of the NCHSAA football playoffs, an entire six-team conference was invited to the postseason.
Purnell Swett coach Mark Heil spent most of Saturday refreshing his computer and keeping his cell phone on standby as his Rams were on the bubble after finishing fifth in the SEC at 5-5.
Swett forced a three-way tie for third following Friday’s 25-7 win over Lumberton, but Heil lost a blind golf ball drawing after the game that determined the third, fourth and fifth-place spots in the standings.
“I’m happy for our kids because they really deserve this,” Swett coach Mark Heil said. “They deserve this opportunity.”
The Rams, who won back-to-back games just to qualify, earned a No. 14 seed in the 4A Mideast and will travel to No. 3 Hillside for the third consecutive postseason.
“Every year is a different scenario,” Heil said. “The bad thing about the pods is that you’re going to end up playing year after year in the same geographic area. We’re just happy to get together for another Friday night.”
Mike Brill and the Lumberton Pirates won the lottery at Hoke County High to finish third in the conference at 7-3 overall. They travel to Cary as a No. 9 seed in the 4AA Mideast Friday night hoping to snap a three-game losing skid.
The Pirates face a potential road trip to Fayetteville to battle Jack Britt if both teams record first-round victories. Lumberton topped the Bucs earlier this season in overtime.
SEC champion Scotland (10-0) is the 4A grouping’s top overall seed. After a second-place conference finish, fourth-seeded Richmond (8-2) in the 4AA Midwest hosts Northwest Guilford in the first round. Hoke County, despite a 1-4 record in league play, benefited from having six overall wins and was rewarded with a trip to Butler (9-1) this week.
Fairmont, Robeson County’s only unbeaten, received the top seed in the 2A Mideast and will be at home for three rounds as long as the Golden Tornadoes (11-0) keep winning.
They’ll face Wheatmore (4-6) in the opening round.
Head coach Keith Wood immediately Googled Wheatmore High School when he saw the preliminary brackets.
“All I know is they’re a small school near High Point,” he said.
Fairmont’s coming off a convincing win Friday night over St. Pauls that wrapped up the school’s first unbeaten regular season. The three-time defending Three Rivers Conference champions won’t be looking ahead to further rounds according to Wood.
“Our side is loaded, but it is fair,” he said. “We’ve got to take care of Wheatmore first. The other half of the pod is loaded too with Randleman and East Bladen. I think it’s even and anybody can come out of that region and pod.”
St. Pauls (5-5) earned a No. 8 seed in the 2AA Mideast and will go on the road to battle Cummings (9-1). The Bulldogs finished third in the Three Rivers behind Red Springs.
The Red Devils (8-2), a No. 2 in the 1AA Mideast, will host Midway (3-7) in the first round. Wallace-Rose Hill is the No. 1 seed on Red Springs’ side, which gives George Coltharp’s squad an opportunity at two home games before the third round. Coltharp received the pairings at halftime of Saturday’s East Carolina game where he was on a recruiting visit with senior defensive lineman Drayvon Fairley.
“Our pod is pretty deep but we’re ready to roll,” Coltharp said.
Red Springs is 4-0 at home this season but hasn’t won a playoff game since 2005.
Staff writer Brad Crawford can be reached at (910) 272-6119 or at firstname.lastname@example.org