For St. Pauls, tonight’s pivotal Three Rivers Conference opener at Red Springs is a chance to validate its stamp in the 2A ranks as a team capable of competing against — and beating — quality, playoff-caliber competition.
Thus far, the Bulldogs have won the games they are supposed to win, dropped the opener to Cape Fear Valley favorite Gray’s Creek and have yet to be challenged on the road. St. Pauls brings a county-best five-game winning streak into today’s tilt at its cross-town rival who just happens to be the preseason coaches and media’s pick to win the league crown.
Lumberton gets a similar opportunity at picking up momentum in Southern Pines against Pinecrest, a team the Pirates haven’t lost to since the Southeastern Conference reformed in 2009. A loss would be difficult to overcome considering Lumberton still has games against Hoke, Richmond, Scotland and Purnell Swett, a Backyard Brawl that hasn’t gone the Pirates way seven of the last eight years.
Week 6 record: 2-1; Overall 26-6
I didn’t expect Red Springs to finish .500 in the non-conference, nor did I think Blake Greene and JuJu Brown would be injured at Goldsboro that ultimately led to a loss. Fairmont bounced back with a fourth-quarter rally, a testament to how well James Atkinson had his kids mentally-prepared despite multiple suspensions.
St. Pauls (5-1) at Red Springs (3-3)
Is the Three Rivers Conference championship game being played in this week’s league opener? That’s the way it looked a few weeks ago when both offenses were ranked among the best in the state and the jury was still out on East Columbus. Now, the Gators (3-3) look more than capable of challenging these two for the top spot with the league’s best defense while Red Springs stumbles into the stretch that matters with question marks on the offensive side of the ball. Will the Red Devils rally without JuJu Brown and possibly Blake Greene? It’ll be difficult against an offense averaging a state-leading eight touchdowns per contest.
St. Pauls 36, Red Springs 28
Fairmont (3-3) at South Robeson (2-3)
Fairmont’s defensive line is back with perfect timing as the two-time defending league champs open in Rowland. The fight for this year’s Three Rivers title will be much tougher than last season with three other teams holding a legitimate shot at unseating the Golden Tornadoes. It may come down to which first-year coach makes the correct halftime adjustments. The Mustangs are still trying to shake a long home losing streak and Fairmont has a couple more playmakers that will impact the outcome.
Fairmont 30, South Robeson 12
Lumberton (4-1) at Pinecrest (3-3)
Can Pinecrest move the football against one of the best front sevens it will face all season? That’s the predicament tonight for the Patriots hosting Lumberton, a team that has won three straight since losing to Jack Britt. The Pirates are playing with confidence behind one of the SEC’s leading rushers in Daniel Robinson and understand the importance of starting 1-0 in one of the state’s toughest leagues. Pinecrest counters Mike Brill’s Wing-T with a misdirection-based offense of its own and blocks well at the line of scrimmage. The last two contests have been decided in the second half and I wouldn’t expect anything different this season.
Lumberton 26, Pinecrest 20
Purnell Swett (2-3) at Scotland (4-1)
No one is giving the Rams much of a shot in the SEC, but I’ll say this: Swett has a tailback with comparable speed to any ball-carrier in the conference, including player of the year favorite Detrez Newsome at Hoke County. Andrew Hill has been used in a fashion similar to recent graduate Juwan Jones this season, a guy in the slot who can make plays with he ball in his hands. Whether he lines up behind Jeremiah Swett or on the outside next to Thomas Hunt, Scotland will have to account for Hill’s ability. In order to make the postseason, Swett likely needs three wins the rest of the way. Stealing one tonight would be an excellent start to conference play for Mark Heil’s Rams.
Scotland 41, Swett 21