LUMBERTON — For the first five weeks, I thought this picking thing was pretty easy. But when I look at this week’s games I learn that much like the season for the teams, it gets harder.
Conference play begins for Lumberton and Purnell Swett in the new Sandhills Athletic Conference that is so scary the boogeyman and Chuck Norris check under their beds for it before going to sleep at night. Well maybe not that bad, but when you play Richmond, Scotland and Pinecrest in consecutive weeks like the Pirates and Rams do, there’s no room for the tenderhearted on the gridiron.
One of the five matchups that I highlighted before the season happens this week as Fairmont travels to St. Pauls, with that tie for first place in the Three Rivers Conference on the line. And the games this week for Red Springs and South Robeson are tough taking on teams that were picked to finish in the top three of the league.
Through five weeks, I’m 21-2 after going a perfect 4-0 last week.
Fairmont (3-1) at St. Pauls (2-2)
I circled this game before the season as a game to watch, and after the first three weeks I wasn’t sure if this game would be up to the hype, but the way St. Pauls has played the last two weeks restores my hope in this matchup.
The Golden Tornadoes and the Bulldogs have shown growth after taking early lumps and this meeting pits two of the hottest teams in Robeson County against each other. The athletes will put on a show in this one, but the team that minimizes its mistakes comes away from this one victorious. After turning the ball over five times to Ashley, Fairmont has cut that out of its game for the most part, and the Bulldogs showed last week it struggles closing teams out, all good signs for the Golden Tornadoes in what could be the most entertaining game of the year.
Prediction: Fairmont 37, St. Pauls 35
Purnell Swett (3-1) at Richmond (2-2)
The last time the Rams claimed a win over Richmond, I was in diapers and the players that take the field on Friday were a couple years out from being thought of — 23 years to be exact. Needless to say it’s been a while, but this matchup could be closer than those from recent years.
Purnell Swett got its wake-up call against Hoggard and the tough stretch continues for it now heading into conference play. Like the Rams, Richmond also has its pride a little hurt after two losses at home to start the year, and getting its first win in Rockingham is top priority going forward for the Raiders that are still going through the adjustments of a new coaching staff, but the streak continues in this series.
Prediction: Richmond 41, Purnell Swett 21
Hoke (0-4) at Lumberton (1-3)
The quest to get back to .500 for the Pirates continues with homecoming against Hoke, that brings its defense that has played like a rookie-level defense on Madden through the non-conference schedule. With bye weeks that have allowed both teams to prep for each other for two weeks, expect changes for both teams, but no band-aid will be a quick fix for the Bucks’ defense.
Lumberton was finally getting pieces put together on offense and defense before the week off, and a win over West Brunswick soothed the worries that the team might have had after an 0-3 start. The Pirates’ offense with even more contributions from its ground game, should have no issue this week with its third straight home game, and the defense will have to continue to improve to secure this win. Expect another nail-bitter at Alton G. Brooks Stadium.
Prediction: Lumberton 28, Hoke 22
East Bladen (3-1) at Red Springs (3-1)
Two of the top defenses and the top running backs in the Three Rivers Conference meet and any smash mouth football fan should appreciate the Eagles’ visit to Red Springs.
Lee McLean and the Red Springs offense take on a defense that is allowing less than two touchdowns a game, and held TRC-leading South Columbus to 14 points in the one-point loss last week. Red Springs’ defense struggled in the loss to South Columbus, and East Bladen will give it the same fits. After having its wings clipped last week by the Stallions, the Eagles fly away with this one over the Red Devils.
Prediction: East Bladen 38, Red Springs 18
South Robeson (1-3) at Whiteville (3-1)
There’s no such thing as moral victories, but South Robeson’s loss should do nothing but revive the confidence in the Mustangs. South Robeson’s three running backs, Darius Wright, Jamearos McLeod and Darrius Brown, might be one of the best backfields in the conference, and could help keep this game close in the first half.
In the second half, however, unlike St. Pauls, the Wolfpack will show its bite and not allow the Mustangs to hang around.
Prediction: Whiteville 42, South Robeson 12