FAIRMONT — The Fairmont football team comes into this week riding high after two wins to open conference play, but first-year coach Kevin Inman knows that this is a different challenge for his team.
The challenge of facing rival St. Pauls may be different than the last two opponents that the Golden Tornadoes have faced, but both teams are very similar when they look at how each other’s offenses are ran.
“We’ve got a lot of momentum going into these next four weeks because we’ve got St. Pauls, Whiteville, East Bladen and South Columbus. It’s no easy ride so the importance of every game is a must,” Inman said. “It is a good rivalry and they run the same sets offensively and defensively and it will be all about who wants it more.”
Fairmont (3-1, 2-0 TRC) is coming off a 34-0 trouncing of West Columbus and St. Pauls (2-2, 2-0 TRC) fought past a resilient South Robeson team on Friday, 42-26.
St. Pauls has two games it wants to avenge from last year, and they come in back-to-back weeks. First things first, Fairmont, who handed the Bulldogs a 42-21 loss last year, is where the sights are set, followed next week by South Columbus.
After a win last week, the focus for St. Pauls coach Ernest King is finishing better. In the game against South Robeson, the Bulldogs allowed the Mustangs to hang around in the second half, and he knows that Fairmont will be harder to put away.
“If we get up, we want to sustain the lead and learn how to finish. We didn’t finish the right way last week, even though we got the win,” he said. “It’s a very challenging team, and they remind me of some of the teams in Cumberland County. Fairmont is a championship caliber team. I think it should be a good game of two teams built a lot alike.”
A big variable for the St. Pauls offense is whether running back Marqueise Coleman will return from his hamstring injury. With the Bulldogs’ top slot receiver Caleb Inman taking over as running back during Coleman’s absence, there’s been a changes the offense. If Coleman were to come back, it would open the offense up even more by adding another weapon back to the passing game.
“It’s an 85 percent chance we will see him (Coleman). He’s doing better and we will evaluate him throughout the week and make it a game-time decision,” King said. “We’re more of a ground-and-pound team when he’s (Coleman) not out there, and when he’s out there he can make a simple play look big.”
Whether it is Inman or Coleman in the backfield, the Fairmont run defense will have to be up the task of stopping whoever is taking the hand offs. After two straight weeks of Ashley and West Bladen finding little resistance in the Fairmont run defense, it rebounded to hold West Columbus to under 100 yards rushing.
“We’re doing the little things of understanding gap control, taking on the combo and our fits as far as linebackers. All of those make difference in the play,” Kevin Inman said. “If one guy is out of position, that one back can bend it for a 40-yard gain. That’s things we can’t afford to have happen.”
St. Pauls has the advantage with its size in numbers, but Fairmont has the upper hand with the size of its athletes. King noted that players like receivers Jordan Waters and Javon Morris have the size advantage over his defenders, and running back Malik Arnette has deceptive speed to look for even though he stands 5-foot-8.
He rushed for 106 yards on five carries against the Vikings last week.
“Their running back is very talented,” King said. “He’s quick with a low center of gravity just like Caleb, but he’s very fast and you don’t see it until he starts running. Hopefully we won’t have to give up a lot of big plays on defense.”
Fairmont has won the last three meetings between the two programs.
Purnell Swett at Richmond
The Sandhills Athletic conference kicks off its first season of the newly formed league on Friday. Purnell Swett (3-1) has already matched its win total from last year as it travels to Richmond (2-2).
After suffering its first loss of the season at Hoggard last week, Purnell Swett looks to rebound in a loss where it was outmatched on both sides of the ball. Luke Oxendine ran for one touchdown and threw for another, and will look for extra help on offense to return the Rams’ offense back to form against an athletic Richmond team.
The Rams haven’t beat the Raiders in 23 years.
Hoke at Lumberton
The two worst records among Sandhills Athletic Conference teams through non-conference play meet as Hoke (0-4) travels to Lumberton (1-3). Both teams are looking to avoid starting out Sandhills Athletic Conference play with a loss to start in the cellar of a league loaded down with talent.
Lumberton grabbed its first win of the season, and some confidence in the process, with its 21-14 in over West Brunswick. The Pirates go up against a defense that has allowed a SAC-worst 188 points through the first four games of its schedule. Both teams have had time with bye weeks to regroup and iron out the wrinkles in its game before this meeting. With the emergence of a more consistent running game, and an overall better flowing offense two weeks ago, keeping mistakes to a minimum is on the mind of the Lumberton offense.
East Bladen at Red Springs
East Bladen has went through the fire to open up Three Rivers Conference play. One of the new teams on the block this this season in the conference, the Eagles split games at Whiteville and at home against South Columbus — two teams predicted to be at the top of the league. Now Red Springs (3-1, 1-1 TRC) stands in the way of East Bladen (3-1, 1-1 TRC).
Two stingy defenses meet and will look to slow down the other team’s workhorse running backs in this game. East Bladen’s opponents are averaging less than 10 points per game, and the Red Devils area holding their teams to under 18 points per game. Eagles running back Xavier Wooten has rushed for 557 yards and seven touchdowns rushing, including three games of 100-plus yards. For Red Springs, sophomore tailback Lee McLean has been a load to stop with 661 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.
South Robeson at Whiteville
Coach Clay Jernigan knew after his team’s loss to St. Pauls last week that the road ahead didn’t get any easier. This week, another team in the top tier of the Three Rivers Conference meets with South Robeson (1-3, 1-1 TRC), as a road trip to Whiteville (3-1, 1-1 TRC) is the next stop for the Mustangs.
The fight the Mustangs showed in the 42-26 loss against St. Pauls is what South Robeson will look to replicate, along with its run game. Darius Wright has rushed for six touchdowns in two weeks and Jamearos McLeod has found the end zone four times in that time frame and six times overall this year.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.