Hobbling into last week’s Three Rivers opener against St. Pauls, coach George Coltharp wasn’t sure how many of his beat-up playmakers would be cleared to play against the Bulldogs. As it turned out, however, the Red Devils would have probably beaten the Bulldogs even without Blake Greene’s six touchdowns.
“They played with more intensity, more fight,” St. Pauls coach Trey Sasser said. “We didn’t respond well to adversity.”
You could tell from the get-go just how much Red Springs wanted this one. The Red Devils dominated the line of scrimmage, slowed down St. Pauls’ prolific spread and made nearly every momentum-changing play indicative of rivalry games. It was the most complete game the preseason league favorite has played this season.
“We just had a great plan and executed it well,” Coltharp said. “Our guys went out there ready to play.”
6. Purnell Swett (2-4, 0-1; PR: 5): It got ugly quick against Scotland last week after the Rams surrendered 28 points in a nine minute span during the first quarter on their way to a 42-0 loss. Unfortunately, it’s not going to get any easier for Swett the rest of the way. Swett hosts unbeaten Richmond Friday, one of a handful of 4A teams that’s good enough top to bottom to win a state championship and needs to finish in the top four of the Southeastern Conference to solidify a playoff berth with Pinecrest, Hoke and Lumberton waiting after that.
5. South Robeson (2-4, 0-1; PR: 6): The Mustangs are right there, dangerously close to being a playoff-caliber football team. Just not yet. South Robeson battled Fairmont to the final minute in last week’s league opener before dropping its 12th consecutive conference game. This time next season, with another year of offseason conditioning and workouts under their belts, the Mustangs should be a threat in the expanded Three Rivers.
4. Fairmont (4-3, 1-0; PR: 4): It’s a little weird to say, but this season is actually winding down for the two-time defending Three Rivers Conference champion Golden Tornadoes. Four games remain in James Atkinson’s first season, one that has been marred by both tragedy and controversy. Banned from the postseason, Fairmont is playing for pride the rest of the way and that continues this week against West Columbus. Keep an eye on Jarrod Neal, Fairmont’s junior quarterback whose coming off a career-high four-touchdown effort against South Robeson. He could be in conference player of the year talks if the Golden Tornadoes keep winning.
3. Lumberton (4-2, 0-1; PR 1): High school football teams are sometimes tough to judge and in this case, what a difference a week makes. Just when I thought Lumberton was hitting its stride offensively, turnover problems early in the season came back to haunt the Pirates last week at Pinecrest. Lumberton dropped it on the turf seven times, losing four in a 24-0 loss. It was a devastating setback for the Pirates who are one of four teams jockeying for two automatic playoff spots behind Richmond and Scotland. Hoke, this week’s opponent, already has six wins — a healthy amount for an at-large berth even if the Bucks finish behind the Pirates in the final SEC standings. More importantly, though, Lumberton needs to take care of business at home or the Pirates will be treading on thin ice the rest of the way in hopes of a playoff berth in Mike Brill’s final season. A 2-3 record in SEC play has been good enough for a playoff spot each of the past two seasons for Lumberton, but might not be enough this year.
2. St. Pauls (5-2, 0-1; PR 2): After running away from five consecutive inferior opponents, we all wanted to see how St. Pauls would fare this season against a lineup with comparable talent. The Bulldogs faced adversity early in Friday’s conference opener at Red Springs, trailing by two touchdowns after two possessions. It was the first time St. Pauls played from behind since Week 1 against Gray’s Creek. A three-touchdown deficit much of the second half forced coaches to all but eliminate the running game and took St. Pauls out of its element in the no-huddle. I’d imagine a few days of intense practice on both sides of the ball this week in preparation for homecoming against South Robeson.
1. Red Springs (4-3, 1-0; PR 3): For the first time in a few weeks, Red Springs looked like the machine it was expected to be in the preseason Friday night with a statement win over St. Pauls. The Red Devils executed a physical, attacking defensive game plan to near perfection, holding the Bulldogs to a season-low point and yardage total. C.J. McGeachey is a star in the making in the secondary. It was also Red Springs’ first “quality” win this fall. Can the defense keep up this kind of play? If it does, the Red Devils should go unbeaten in the Three Rivers and be a legitimate 1A threat in the postseason. An offensive weapon may also be returning to the lineup sooner than expected. The initial prognosis for JuJu Brown was that the all-county wideout would be out a “few” games with a sore knee, but he’s expected to return soon. He’s probable according to coach George Coltharp for Friday’s bout at East Columbus.