It’s hard to believe we’re already three months removed from the preseason jamboree and just five weeks from state championship games. If there’s a team in Robeson County who plans to practice during the week of Thanksgiving, it starts tonight in the first round of the state playoffs.
For the most part, though, the real party begins next week.
A possible rematch between Wallace-Rose Hill and Red Springs highlights the docket while St. Pauls gets the arduous task of going up against top-seeded Reidsville on its home turf. Lumberton could take on a familiar SEC opponent in Pinecrest or Hoke County.
But first …
The Bulldogs, the top 2A seed from the Three Rivers, try to snap a four-year first-round losing streak against Northwood, a program not used to going up against a hurry-up offense as lethal as Scott Barbour’s attack. As the last team in, South Robeson travels to Albemarle, perhaps the toughest postseason opener for any 1A team in the state. The Red Devils, as the area’s hottest team, plays below-.500 Midway.
Lumberton’s game at Jack Britt, the second time this season the Pirates have faced the Buccaneers, is the only game tonight that should be within a touchdown and features evenly-matched teams. Earlier this year, Lumberton couldn’t move the ball and suffered a 27-0 loss at the Boneyard.
Week 11 record: 4-0; Overall 44-11
Another perfect week puts the record at 44-11 for the season. Tonight’s slate of games should be another snoozer unless South Robeson can pull off a shocker or the favored Bulldogs or Red Devils get upended at home. Mike Brill, like last week, could be coaching his final game at Lumberton.
Midway (5-6) at Red Springs (8-3)
As the preseason league favorites, Red Springs took care of business in the Three Rivers and captured its first conference title in eight years. The Red Devils did so in convincing fashion with their average margin of victory at 29.8 over their last five games. Most know about Red Springs’ potent offense, but head coach George Coltharp says his team will get as far as the defense takes them. And that defense, a unit led by Byron Locklear, Mike Graham and C.J. McGeachey, is tough as nails. The Red Devils have played tough games this season — losses to Goldsboro, Sun Valley and South Columbus — that will prepare them for quality competition in the 1AA playoffs.
Red Springs 40, Midway 12
Northwood (6-5) at St. Pauls (8-3)
Ideally, you want to be playing your best football heading into the playoffs and the Bulldogs are there. The glaring holes defensively have been plugged over the last two games with better tackling and no big plays. Like Red Springs, the Bulldogs' offense can keep St. Pauls in the game against anyone, but the team's postseason fate falls on its defense. Northwood's last three wins are against teams with a combined record of 3-29. The Chargers' last three losses have come to playoff squads with a mark of 27-6. Fireworks will pop in bunches and St. Pauls' recent postseason struggles will end tonight.
St. Pauls 42, Northwood 18
South Robeson (3-7) at Albemarle (10-1)
"You have to beat whoever they put in front of you." South Robeson first-year coach didn't mince words wit his Mustangs this week in preparation for perennial power Albemarle. The two-hour trek to a 1A top seed will be South Robeson's most difficult game this season, but at least the Mustangs are back in the postseason and headed in the right direction. Right? Roberson isn't into moral victories. "They (Albemarle) have a great tradition," Robeson said. "They've won four or five state championships. They're a versatile team, so they give you a lot of different looks. You just have to be disciplined. Their backs are really good. They fly them out quite a bit and try to give them the ball in space. We have to be sure tacklers. Offensively, we're trying to sustain some drives and not shoot ourselves in the foot with turnovers." Early mistakes could lead to a rout if the Mustangs aren't careful.
Albemarle 42, South Robeson 6
Lumberton (5-5) at Jack Britt (9-2)
In two previous playoff matchups between these two teams, the Buccaneers added touchdowns in the fourth quarter of each game to win by 14 and 15 points, respectively. Take away the first two minutes of last week’s game against Purnell Swett and the Pirates played as close to a complete game as they have all season. They’ll need a turnover-free, clock-eating brand of football to win at Britt. Like most prep football fans, I'm not in favor of the pod system and would like to see local teams face off with uncommon opponents. That's what the playoffs are supposed to be according to Brill. Instead, teams are matched up by region in most cases and plays school they've already seen. It’s not Alabama-LSU, but Lumberton’s tussle with the Buccaneers will be a physical affair decided in the trenches late in the second half. In that instance, the home team usually prevails.
Jack Britt 21, Lumberton 14