Game of the week: Final push toward the playoffs

RED SPRINGS — Red Springs football coach Lawrence Ches knows, and he hopes his team does as well.

When it comes to Fairmont versus Red Springs, there’s nothing that should be said. The two cross-county rivals meet Friday with more on the line than just bragging rights this time.

“These weeks are the easiest to coach when you got rivalry weeks and you don’t have to motivate,” Ches said. “The kids are motivated more than anyone. They want Fairmont real bad.

“It’s must win games in October. You’ve got to win in October to play in November. That’s what we preach everyday.”

Fairmont (3-5, 2-4 TRC), Red Springs (5-3, 3-3 TRC) and St. Pauls all find themselves on the state playoffs bubble, and each team sees how they need to basically win out to earn a berth. Red Springs plays the Golden Tornadoes and the Bulldogs in two of the last three weeks of the season.

This game pits the two first-year coaches in Robeson County against each other, but Ches has served on the Red Devils’ staff for four years prior to taking over as head coach and knows the weight this game carries for the players. While Red Springs comes into the game ahead of the Golden Tornadoes in the Three Rivers Conference standings, he’s seen how well the team has played in recent weeks and how these meetings usually go.

“I think it’s going to be another knockdown drag-out battle between us and Fairmont,” Ches said. “They’re hungry and ready to go, and I believe we’re prepared. It should be a great game.

Fairmont lost to East Bladen and South Columbus each by a touchdown and had chances in both games to come away with what many would consider an upset. Coach Kevin Inman said it started with the buying in and adjustments that have clicked into play with a young team and a new coaching staff.

“We played arguable two of the best teams in the conference tough,” he said. “It does build confidence especially coming off the Whiteville loss and the St. Pauls loss. It just shows the boys that we can go out there and play our style of football and compete.”

Quarterback Derrick Arnette and the Fairmont offense looked more improved after losses to Whiteville and St. Pauls in its last two games and he has keyed the offense during its positive performances. Arnette has accounted for eight touchdowns during those two games with three turnovers that have come in big spots.

While Arnette’s elusiveness in the pocket is a point of emphasis for Red Springs, the athletes he’s looking to get the ball to are the bigger concern for the Red Devils. Receivers Jordan Waters and Jayvon Morris have combined for 13 touchdowns and over 1,300 yards receiving this season and have been a nightmare for most secondaries.

“They are really, really, really athletic, and they’ve got a lot of weapons everywhere,” Ches said. “We’ve got play sound defense, tackle the ball and don’t over-pursue. We just have to play discipline football.”

The passing game from Fairmont is where Red Springs puts its focus on stopping, but Inman sees a talented defense and backfield his team has to go up against. Sophomore running back Lee McLean needs one yard to get to 1,000 yards for the season and has 10 touchdowns. Linebacker Jerome Bass comes in averaging 12 tackles a game and has totaled 14 tackles for loss, and both are used frequently in the power run game.

“Bass is a player and everybody knows him. Their running back and mobile quarterback are leading them and they have a good season and have some momentum coming in,” Inman said. “They are very similar to us as far as athletes and pound-for-pound on the line. It will all be about who can maximize mistakes and who can cut out the mistakes.”

Inman is new to the rivalry, but not new to the fact of teams trying to play themselves into the playoffs. His approach from here on out is simplistic.

“We want to go to the playoffs, but right now we want to take it one game at a time,” he said.

The average margin of victory in the meeting the last two seasons has been seven points, including a Hail Mary on the final play giving Fairmont the win last year. The Golden Tornadoes have won the last four meetings in the series.

West Bladen at St. Pauls

After hanging around and surrendering 13 points in the fourth quarter of their loss to East Bladen, the Bulldogs host their second straight team from Bladen County this week as West Bladen comes to visit. The Knights (4-4, 2-4 TRC) have struggled through conference play after starting 2-0 and bring their rushing attack led by B.J. Drake up against St. Pauls (4-4 4-2 TRC).

St. Pauls quarterback Noah Wheeler has rushed for six touchdowns and is coming off a turnover-free game against East Bladen where the Bulldogs led in the fourth quarter and were driving late before they got short on time. The young receiving corps is stepping up as of late and the defense behind Bryclyn McMillian has made strides in recent weeks.

Lumberton at Richmond

The Pirates went score-for-score with Pinecrest outside of the third quarter when the Patriots built up a 34-13 lead, and now a struggling Richmond team awaits. Lumberton (2-6, 1-3 SAC) travels to take on the Raiders that are 30-1 all time against the Pirates with the lone loss for Richmond coming in 1986. Quarterback Braylan Grice is fourth in the Sandhills Athletic Conference in passing and rushing yards.

Richmond’s (5-3, 3-1 SAC) freshman quarterback Caleb Hood has passed for over 1,200 yards this season, to go along with senior running back Dante Miller averaging 114 yards per contest on the ground. Miller was selected to play in the Shrine Bowl this year.

South Robeson at South Columbus

A battle of the Wing-T offenses takes place as South Robeson visits South Columbus. The Stallions (8-0, 6-0 TRC) have faced little resistance this year, winning their conference games by an average of 24 points per game behind the rushing attack of Trequan Bellamy, Robby Spencer and Seth Buffkin.

The Mustangs (3-5, 3-3 TRC) bring their own rushing attack of Darrius Brown, Darius Wright and Jamearos McLeod against the South Columbus defense. Fairmont showed last week that South Columbus is vulnerable to the pass, meaning that sophomore Tyler Locklear might try to exploit the defense through the air with his talented receivers and backs coming out of the backfield.

Purnell Swett at Seventy-First

After posting the fewest points they had scored all season against Jack Britt, the Rams catch Seventy-First off its loss to Scotland in what was the battle of the top two teams in the Sandhills Athletic Conference. Purnell Swett (3-5, 0-4 SAC) surrendered over 230 yards on the ground to the Buccaneers and take on another solid running team led by Fabion Jones with 107 yards rushing per game and nine touchdowns, and Juan Maddox with 72 yards rushing per game and six touchdowns.

The Falcons (6-2, 3-1 SAC) have held their opponents to less than 15 points per game this year, but allowed over 600 yards rushing and 56 points against Scotland. Luke Oxendine, the Rams’ quarterback, leads the conference with 1,400 yards passing and is tied with Seventy-First’s quarterback Kyler Davis with 15 touchdown passes this year.

Jonathan Bym | The Robesonian
Red Springs running back Lee McLean enters tomorrow’s game against Fairmont with 999 yards rushing, needing just one yard to be the first running back in Robeson County to reach the 1,000-yard plateau. Bym | The Robesonian
Red Springs running back Lee McLean enters tomorrow’s game against Fairmont with 999 yards rushing, needing just one yard to be the first running back in Robeson County to reach the 1,000-yard plateau.
Devils, Tornadoes set for rivalry game

By Jonathan Bym

Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.