Think positive: Salas says Pirates improving despite 0-4 start

First Posted: 9/17/2013

LUMBERTON — A first down here, a two-point conversion stop there.

Lumberton’s certainly had its chances during an 0-4 start in Joe Salas’ first season.

The veteran play-caller says his team’s been forced to learn lessons the hard way however, something that comes with not having a single returning starter on offense up against one of the toughest schedules in the state.

“Our kids are going through battles they’ve never experienced before,” Salas said. “It’s all about the process and we’re slowly getting better.”

Last week’s 30-29 setback at unbeaten Seventy-First was a confidence builder for the Pirates after three consecutive lopsided defeats. Lumberton rallied to force overtime and scored first in the extra session, but was unable to stop Falcons running back Eric McKoy on a game-winning two-point try on Seventy-First’s possession.

It may have been a quiet bus ride back to Lumberton, but Salas says the gut-wrenching defeat is part of the maturation process for all of his players.

“I think that was a big thing for us, the kids realizing they can put four quarters together on a Friday night,” Salas said. “The first week (at Byrd) we played one quarter, then we played a half against Pine Forest. You have to play a full football game to give yourself at chance at winning and last week was proof to the kids that we’re getting there.”

Despite four interceptions, Lumberton junior Josh Sheridan provided a spark at quarterback in Will Everette’s absence with 139 yards rushing and three touchdowns. He leads Robeson County with nearly 400 yards on the ground this season and has reached the end zone six times as the Pirates’ primary weapon on offense.

“We’ve been struggling all year with getting the ball into his hands,” Salas said. “We believe he’s our best player on that side of the ball and against Seventy-First he was able to touch it every play at quarterback. Hopefully we can continue incorporating him into what we’re trying to do offensively.”

Lumberton hosts Hoggard (3-1) this week backed by a renewed sense of self-worth despite its four-game slide. Salas wants to see more consistency from his offense and less three-and-outs against the Vikings, a team that beat Purnell Swett by 31 points on Sept. 6.

“I know it may not seem like it looking at the points per game, but our defense has really given us a chance to win these last two weeks,” Salas said. “They’ve played lights out. We’ve been given a bunch of chances on offense and need to start doing our part.”

South Robeson rested, confident

ROWLAND — South Robeson coach Stephen Roberson says he didn’t watch last week’s film of Harrells Christian Academy, his team’s opponent Friday night located just off Highway 421 outside of Wallace.

The Crusaders, coming off a 50-point loss to Davidson Day, were obliterated by Florida commit Will Grier and the pass-happy Cougars offense for more than 600 total yards, the exact opposite of what Roberson plans to employ in South Robeson’s final non-conference tuneup.

“We’re not going to get away from what we do best,” Robeson said. “I heard Grier passed all over them, but that’s not us. He torches everybody. We’re a power-run team and we’re going to stay that way. Midline option and counter is what we like and that’s not a secret.”

Relying on its strength up front, South Robeson has cruised to consecutive wins since a season-opening defeat at West Bladen. Juan Ellerbe and Andrew Hill have each had more than a week to rejuvenate since twin three-touchdown, 200-yard rushing performances in the Mustangs’ victory over North Moore.

“We still like to think the West Bladen loss was a fluke and that we’ve got that behind us now,” Roberson said. “I think our players know what they’re capable of and now it’s a matter of going out and proving that to everyone else. We’re just taking this one game at a time and seeing what happens.”

Reach staff writer Brad Crawford at 910-272-6119 or at Follow him on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.