LUMBERTON — With high school football’s return to action set for Friday, five of the six Robeson County teams kick off their seasons this week.
South Robeson has its bye week, but the other five will open with non-conference games. Conference games get into full swing after Labor Day for the Three Rivers teams, and by the sixth week of the season for the two Sandhills Athletic teams.
Here’s five intriguing games heading into the season that will be played in Robeson County.
1. Red Springs at St. Pauls, Nov. 3
The closing week of the season features three matchups of the Robeson County teams, and if this year’s meeting between the Red Devils and Bulldogs is anything like last year, another good contest between two talented teams is possible.
Both St. Pauls and Red Springs return several top performers from last season. With the Bulldogs’ strong offense bringing back its quarterback, several offensive lineman and receivers and several key pieces coming back for the Red Devils’ defense, it could be a clash of the best players on both sides of the ball featuring the reigning county offensive and defensive players of the year staring across the line of scrimmage at each other.
Position in the Three Rivers Conference could hang in the balance with St. Pauls and Red Springs being picked to finish fourth and fifth, respectively, in the preseason coaches poll.
In what was one of the best games played last season, St. Pauls stormed back from a 12-6 deficit to start the second half to top Red Springs 25-12 to open conference play.
2. Lumberton at Purnell Swett, Nov. 3
The backyard brawl has been one-sided as of late with Lumberton controlling the series on a five-game winning streak. Through the early part of last season, it looked as if the matchup between the Pirates and Purnell Swett would be more evenly matched up, but injuries plagued the Rams midway through the year before the meeting.
Lumberton won the meeting last year 48-19 in an emotional return back home after Hurricane Matthew.
Both offensive units under the direction of experienced play callers and seasoned running backs will challenge the opposing defenses in what has the makings to be the most competitive game since 2014 when Lumberton won in a 56-49 shootout.
3. Fairmont at St. Pauls, Sept. 22
This contest will be an early conference tester for two similar offenses and two multifaceted quarterbacks with weapons on the outside. Fairmont topped St. Pauls 42-21 in the second to last week of the season last year.
Fairmont’s offense and St. Pauls’ defense will have a new look this year with several of the impact players graduating, but expect much of the same and more from the Bulldogs on offense as they take on the Fairmont defense. Last season, the Golden Tornadoes’ defense showed it was susceptible to the run, but after the scrimmage against Lake View had signs it might’ve turn the corner.
4. Red Springs at Fairmont, Oct. 20
No love is lost in this rivalry and has been one of the best games in each of the last two seasons between two talented teams. Fairmont won last year on the last play of a game with a Hail Mary, and won the meeting before with big plays late.
The meeting will match up Red Springs’ defense against a Fairmont offense that lacks a little fire power from years past. Fairmont’s defense will be tasked with stopping Red Springs’ power running game.
Red Springs was picked to finish fifth and Fairmont sixth in the preseason poll, and this meeting will come after the Golden Tornadoes roll through a four-game stretch against St. Pauls, Whiteville, South Columbus and East Bladen.
5. Jack Britt at Lumberton, Sept. 29
The game between these two schools will be the first in five seasons, but this early season meeting between these two teams could play to how the middle of the conference might shake out. Lumberton and Jack Britt were picked to tie for fifth place in the preseason coaches poll.
Lumberton’s last win in the series came in 2011 and the schools have had three meetings in the state playoffs with Jack Britt winning all three in 2009, 2010 and 2012.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.