LUMBERTON — Football is finally back tonight, and much like the kids getting to strap up their helmets, I’ve been eagerly waiting for another season of Friday night lights.
With a new season, I feel it’s time to bring on something new for teams, coaches and fans to look forward to on a weekly basis that hasn’t been done recently.
In the past my opinion and picks on games has been silent, something I would scribble on a scratch pad in the office then go check back on Friday after a night of covering football games and calling coaches. That silence is now broken.
All five contests to open the season seem to be good matchups, and I see Robeson County teams coming away with three wins after the dust settles.
E.E. Smith at St. Pauls
St. Pauls coach Ernest King noted how when he saw the size of his former players at E.E. Smith at 7-on-7s this summer he realized the group of players he coached two seasons ago had grown up a lot. That size and speed is tough to simulate in practice at a 2A school, but this could be a lesson that St. Pauls will have to learn quick being smaller than it was last season.
The matchup to watch in this one will be how St. Pauls quarterback Noah Wheeler will do against the speed and experience in the E.E. Smith secondary, and how he will gel running the read option in live action football with his running backs.
This non-conference primer before getting into Three Rivers Conference play will be an uphill battle for the Bulldogs, but they should keep it close early while both teams feel each other out, before the Golden Bulls run off with this one.
Prediction: E.E. Smith 35, St. Pauls 20
Pine Forest at Purnell Swett
After the way last year’s game went with a blocked extra point that was wrongly took in for a two-point conversion and an interception late, revenge is on the minds of the Rams opening at home.
That late pick thrown by Luke Oxendine was one of many learning moments last year for a Purnell Swett team that went through growing pains learning its new offense, but experience prevails this year. The entire offensive unit comes back a year older and wiser and the offensive line will have to step up to help talented running back Al’Drique Thompson get going.
With no Julian Hill at quarterback for the Trojans, the Purnell Swett defense won’t get much of a break with the versatile Lavonte Carter taking over, meaning taking over the line of scrimmage will be a must for the defensive line. Both teams will likely go score for score in this one, with which ever team comes away with a stop late coming away with the win, advantage to Purnell Swett.
Prediction: Purnell Swett 28, Pine Forest 23
South Brunswick at Red Springs
The past may be the past, but South Brunswick showed last year it was a one-horse show with Josh Carter at running back with over 1,000 yards on the ground. He’s back, but he also is facing the Red Springs defense, which was stout last year and returns most of its performers that it has built now around Jerome Bass at middle linebacker. This matchup seems like a good one for the defense to get up to speed.
At its scrimmage against Trinity Christian, Red Springs showed that it is fulfilling one of the main points that coach Lawrence Ches emphasized when hired about being more disciplined. Now is when the rubber hits the road.
While the defense will have the advantage in this game, the young offense will take some time to warm up but has to follow the solid constant of Lee McLean on the ground leading the way in a rout.
Prediction: Red Springs 26, South Brunswick 6
Dillon at Lumberton
The South Carolina powerhouse comes to town after taking on Scotland at Alton Brooks Stadium last Thursday for the Battle of the Carolinas, and this time the Pirates will be tasked to do what the Scots did. Lumberton’s defense showed it was up to the task of stopping Marlboro after allowing an early touchdown, but the Wildcats are a different beast.
For Lumberton to keep this one close, having empty trips to the red zone can’t happen and holding onto the ball is a must. Running back Montrez Howell will have to try and take a page out of Zamir White’s book of attacking Dillon on the run in space like he did on his three carries in the jamboree. Dillon does seem to have the horses to run away with this one.
This game doesn’t have an official name, but “Battle for South of the Border” might work and maybe the winner keeping the popular tourist attraction on their side of the state line. If that’s the case, Pedro should keep his home in South Carolina.
Prediction: Dillon 38, Lumberton 13
Fairmont at Douglas Byrd
The Golden Tornadoes ease into the season and a new era with this road test against Douglas Byrd, who carries a 14-game losing streak into the contest. The faces have changed on offense, but the Fairmont offense will keep its firepower going with Derrick Arnette at quarterback, Malik Arnette at running back and Jordan Waters at wide receiver. Derrick Arnette has shown an ability to stretch plays out like Julius Caulder, but has to take it slow to prevent costly turnovers while he is still learning.
The defense that came a tipped pass in the end zone away from shutting out Lake View at the Battle of the Carolinas carries positive momentum into the game after showing it can stop teams on the ground and now takes on an offense that scored six touchdowns total last season.
Kevin Inman should start his career off on the right foot with a sizable win and get a bye week to resolve any kinks following this game.
Prediction: Fairmont 29, Douglas Byrd 8
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.