What has happened to the Pirates in the Southeastern Conference? A team expected to challenge for that third spot behind Richmond and Scotland has been plagued by turnovers and injuries, both accumulating at the worst possible moments in games this season.
Lumberton bottled up Hoke’s Detrez Newsome last week but didn’t have an answer for the Bucks’ other backs. The toughest portion of the conference slate begins this week against the Raiders. That is followed by a bout with the Scots. Across the area, Fairmont is banned from participating in the postseason and the Mustangs and Rams are still winless in league play. It’ll take some heavy lifting from each program the rest of October to still be playing next month.
Rankings are based on strength of schedule, quality wins, talent on offense and defense and a personal eye test. Like all rankings not based on a computer-based mathematical formula, these are subjective. Previous rankings are indicated.
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6. South Robeson (2-5, 0-2; PR: 5): Jay Couser’s 59-yard touchdown in Friday’s loss at St. Pauls was one of the best individual plays I’ve seen this season. Couser caught Daquinn Lindsey’s soft pass two yards behind the line of scrimmage, made one cut across the field at the stripe and out ran the Bulldogs’ secondary to the end zone. The momentum didn’t last for long however as St. Pauls broke open a close game with three touchdowns in the third quarter. If the Mustangs can become more formidable on offense, they’ll have a chance over these final three games. South Robeson has lost three straight games since starting the season 2-2.
5. Purnell Swett (2-5, 0-2; PR: 6): Finally, the gauntlet is over for Purnell Swett. Battle-tested for sure, the Rams will have a chance over these next three weeks against Pinecrest, Hoke and Lumberton. During the last two games, Swett was overmatched at the line of scrimmage and it showed on the scoreboard. The Rams blanked South Robeson head-to-head so they get the No. 5 spot this week. Expect Swett to be much more competitive over the final three games. Two wins could be enough to finish in the top four of the conference.
4. Fairmont (4-4, 1-1; PR: 4): The streak is over for the Golden Tornadoes. For the first time in three years last week, Fairmont lost a Three Rivers Conference game after West Columbus upended the two-time defending champs 32-30. The Golden Tornadoes will get a chance to start anew this week in the rematch of last season’s best game in Robeson County. Fairmont took out Red Springs in overtime on its way to a league title, erasing a 20-point halftime deficit. Fairmont quarterback Jarrod Neal may not play in the pivotal matchup with the Red Devils after suffering an ankle injury against the Vikings.
3. Lumberton (4-3, 0-2; PR: 3): The Pirates are No. 3 by default since all three teams in the 4, 5 and 6 positions lost last week. Lumberton was flat at home, gave up over 300 yards rushing and dropped to 0-2 in the SEC before games against Scotland and Richmond. It’s an uphill climb to the postseason now for the Pirates. Lumberton must win two of its final three regular season games to solidify a spot. If not, a victory over Swett in the finale has to happen just to stay on the bubble.
2. St. Pauls (6-2, 1-1; PR: 2): The Bulldogs hit the meet of their conference schedule this week taking on East Columbus on the road. The Gators have a strong running game and play well on defense. St. Pauls has improved on that side of the ball, but still isn't at the level needed to advance deep into the postseason. The Bulldogs could conceivably go 9-2 in the regular season and capture a high seed in the state playoffs, but the loss two weeks ago at Red Springs would be the difference in a conference championship and a second-place finish. The goals are still out there for the Bulldogs, but we'll get a more clear understanding of the strength of this team after Friday's bout with the Gators.
1. Red Springs (5-3, 2-0; PR: 1): As we enter the home stretch, the Red Devils are beginning to smell a conference championship especially after capturing a road win at East Columbus last week. Red Springs has already played its two toughest games — arguably — but still have to go through rival Fairmont and upset-minded South Robeson. West Columbus could present a challenge if the Red Devils don't bring their "A" game. A Three Rivers title would be the school's first league championship since 2004 and would give coach George Coltharp 16 regular-season victories in two seasons. Impressive.