ROWLAND — Coming off its first-round bye in the NCHSAA 1A state football playoffs, South Robeson coach Clay Jernigan doesn’t know what to expect on Friday.
All the fourth-year head coach knows is it was a breath of fresh air as his third-seeded Mustangs (3-8) hosts No. 6 Plymouth (7-5) in the second-round meeting. After playing 11 weeks straight, this was the first week off for South Robeson since in opening week of the year.
“We tried to heal up (in the bye week). The radio station up there asked me the other day how I felt about it, and I told him I don’t know because I’ve never been in this situation,” Jernigan said. “It helped us get energized because I have seen that bunch for 11 straight weeks and they’ve seen me for 11 straight weeks and we gave them Monday and Friday off.”
The home playoff game will be the first time South Robeson has hosted a playoff contest since 2013, which was also the last time it won a playoff game and was the last time it made the third round of the state playoffs.
Coming to town is a storied football program that has made the state title game in each of the last five season, with two state championships in that span.
“They’ve got a good football team. In the last couple years they have been in the state finals or won the state. That’s the one thing that worries me that they’ve been in the playoffs and have been successful and us just been in the playoffs,” Jernigan said. “They’re good and do a lot of things well. They don’t run many plays, but they do them very well.”
The Vikings lean on the legs of two running backs that have combined for over 1,300 yards. Junior Elijah Carmack has totaled 673 yards on the ground and senior Aaron Wilkins has 650 yards this season. Junior Samyr Cooper has less than 500 yards rushing this year, but leads the team with 23 rushing touchdowns.
Leading those backs is an offensive front that has five players listed over 240 pounds. Last week, the Vikings topped North Edgecombe 38-8, with Carmack totaling 243 yards rushing and four touchdowns in the win.
Much like Plymouth, South Robeson’s Wing-T is the way the offense will go with three talented backs that have been the core of the offense this year in Darius Wright, Darrius Brown and Jamearos McLeod.
“We’re going to do what we’ve normally done all year and if it works, it works, and if it doen’t they are a whole lot better than us,” Jernigan said.
While the season ended for the Mustangs two weeks ago, it was nothing short of a tough stretch to close out its schedule going up against East Bladen and South Columbus, two of the three teams that shared the Three Rivers Conference crown, and Fairmont with some of the area’s top athletes. That spell of games has Jernigan hoping that his team is figuring itself out at the right time of the year.
“We play in a good conference, there’s no slouches. That’s going to help us, we aren’t over the hump, but I feel like we are getting to the top of it,” Jernigan said. “If we can pull this one off, it can help us get over the top of the hump.”
Red Springs at Hendersonville
After winning its first playoff game since 2012 last week, the Red Springs football team is making sure that its depth is well prepared this week in case of emergency like it saw last week.
When its top two running back went down, Lee McLean and Nichorie West, its reserves filled their roles on both sides of the ball, and making sure it is ready for every situation is a focus this week. West and McLean will play tomorrow in No. 11 Red Springs’ (9-3) second-round game at No. 3 Hendersonville (9-3).
“That gives a lot of our role players a chance to step in and get reps so if push comes to shove and we have some players go down, which is a strong possibility, we will need some guys to fill in roles,” Ches said.
Going up against the Bearcats that finished second in the Mountain Six Conference, Ches has noted that they are polar opposites when it comes to their style of play.
“They’re tough, probably one of the more talented teams we’ve played all year. They’re the exact opposite style we play,” Ches said. “They are a no-huddle team, they’re going to try and go fast to try and score a lot of points and they are well-coached and strong. Probably everything you want in a football team.”
Leading Hendersonville’s spread offense is senior quarterback Alex Williford has passed for more than 2,800 yards and 29 touchdowns this season, getting the ball to two 1,000-plus yard receivers, senior Tykel Landrum and junior Kylin Ensley. Ensley has hauled in 16 touchdowns this season.
The Bearcats show balance with its effort on the ground led by junior running back Ty’rese Hunt with 1,145 yards and 14 scores this season.
“They’re 50-50 running out of the spread, but they are so disciplined in what they do and that’s the scary part,” Ches said.
Hendersonville win comes in winners of its last five games, and in its last three games it has allowed a total of seven points to its opponents, including two shutouts over Brevard in that span. The trip will be twice the length of the trip last week to Salisbury, but Ches has no worries about the length of the trip.
Last week against Salisbury, the Red Devils held it to seven points on 182 yards of total offense and forced three turnovers. The same approach last week is being taken defensively to try and slow down the high-powered Bearcat offense.
“It’s just about execution and preparation. We’re preparing the exact same way as we did last week by pouring hours into film study,” Ches said. “We are really trying to break down the film and rep the plays. The kids are going to be prepared, but now are we going to be able to execute and tackle.”
The last time Red Springs made the third round of the state playoffs was in 2012.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.