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For four teams in The Wilson Times readership area, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association football playoffs are arriving early.
With heavy rain in the forecast for Friday, four games have been moved to Thursday evening, with all kicking off at 7:30. Fike will play Terry Sanford in Fayetteville at Reid Ross Classical High as the Bulldogs’ field is under construction. C.B. Aycock is the guest of Jacksonville Northside and Southern Nash will host Fayetteville E.E. Smith in the 3-A playoffs. In the 2-A playoffs, SouthWest Edgecombe will entertain East Bladen.
Still on Friday at 7:30 p.m. are Hunt at Eastern Alamance in the 3-A bracket and Beddingfield at Bartlett Yancey in Yanceyville in the 2-A playoffs.
The forecast for Wilson calls for the chance of showers Thursday evening and progressing into rain that will last throughout Friday.
“To be able to start the game, at least, on a dry field is a good plan,” SouthWest Edgecombe head coach Jonathan Cobb said.
Fike head coach Tom Nelson agreed, noting that while the temperatures will be brisk Thursday, it’s not going to be “bone-chilling cold” and, more importantly, will be dry.
FIKE AT TERRY SANFORD
The Golden Demons will head into Fayetteville as the 3-A East No. 13 seed with a 4-7 record that is a bit deceiving. Fike started the season 1-4 but, starting with a 12-7 win against Triton on Oct. 1, has gone 3-3 with all three losses coming in games that were winnable. The Demons finished the regular season with a 38-7 whipping of archival Hunt last Friday at Buddy Bedgood Stadium.
“I’m just proud of our resolve,” Nelson said. “They have been unwavering — that’s the word we’ve taken. They have played their hearts out and they’ve come back every week, no matter what’s happened and we’ve had some tough losses.”
Nelson said that his team pulled together after some players left the team, either by their own decision or not.
“There’s some valuable life lessons,” he said. “We had addition by subtraction and it really helped the culture of our team and the togetherness of our team. I think that has a lot to do with it.”
Seniors Mike Rand (647 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Curtis Bullock (631, 6) have led the Demons ground attack in front of sophomore Demari Daniels, who has thrown for 1,187 yards and nine TDs along with eight interceptions.
Leading the Demons defense are junior Jayleen Bullock, senior Octavius Carpenter, senior Jacob Powell, senior Monta Howard, senior Khaism Lee and Rand.
The No. 4 Bulldogs (8-3) only have losses against 4-A opponents, including a 34-28 defeat at Rolesville on Sept. 27, a month after Fike fell 34-13 at Rolesville. But the only thing to take from that from a Fike perspective is that the Demons are far more confident now than they were then.
Terry Sanford tied 4-A Hope Mills South View for the 3-A/4-A Patriot Conference championship, but Nelson thinks his team can compete with the Bulldogs.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I think we’re playing pretty good. I think if we go down there and play good defense and take care of the football, I like our chances.”
E.E. SMITH AT SOUTHERN NASH
Firebirds head coach Brian Foster is happy his 11-0 team earned the No. 1 seed in the 3-A East but marveled at the Golden Bulls (4-7) as a No. 16. Smith started the season with five straight losses but since then has only fallen to 4-A Pine Forest and South View. Foster pointed out that the Bulls delivered a 43-0 whipping last Friday to Cape Fear, which finished a spot above them for third place in the 3-A/4-A Patriot Conference behind co-champs South View and Terry Sanford.
However, it’s unlikely that Smith has seen a rushing attack as prolific as Southern Nash’s double wing, led by senior Quinton Cooley, whose 2,102 rushing yards leads the Maxpreps.com statistics for the entire state. Cooley, who has committed to Wake Forest University, sat out last Friday’s 49-20 rout of Franklinton to rest a sore ankle that he’d had for the past two games.
“Hopefully, he’ll be good to go,” Foster said.
Southern Nash will be going for its seventh straight first-round playoff win.
EAST BLADEN AT SW EDGECOMBE
SouthWest was one of the first schools to announce the decision to move the playoff game to Thursday. Cobb said that the cold weather wouldn’t be problem, even vowing to combat it with “camos” if need be.
“We’re excited to enter the third phase of the season,” he said. “You do like you’re supposed to and keep moving on or you pack it up. I think the kids are excited for the playoffs and they’ve done a good job to get where they are.”
The Cougars (10-1) blitzed Beddingfield 60-22 last Friday to earn the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference title outright, claiming championship honors all or in part for a fifth straight year.
Like his players, Cobb is thrilled to be starting the playoffs for a seventh straight season as Cougars head coach. This time, SouthWest holds a few more cards in the form of home games as the No. 2 seed, hosting No. 15 East Bladen (5-5), the third-place team.
“They’re well coached and they’re very similar to us, philosophically and strategically,” Cobb said of the Eagles, who employ the same modified wishbone offense as SWE.
“It’s like defending ourselves,” he said. “Gotta get lined up, gotta hit blocks correctly, gotta tackle.”
SouthWest seniors Cortezz Jones and Demari Mabry have run for 1,140 and 997 yards, respectively, and combined for 31 TDs. Quarterbacks Ray Wooten and Jackson Lewis have combined for 857 yards and 10 TDs through the air.
While the Eagles are only .500 this season, East Bladen under head coach Robby Priest has carved out a run of success that not many other programs have enjoyed.
But playoff success can be a simple formula.
“It comes down to who gets off to the best start and gets some momentum and holds onto the ball,” Cobb said.
C.B. AYCOCK AT JACKSONVILLE NORTHSIDE
Jacksonville is home for seventh-year C.B. Aycock head coach Steve Brooks, who graduated from Jacksonville High. But North Carolina’s 14th-largest city may be feeling like home to Brooks’ Golden Falcons. Aycock participated in two preseason events in Jacksonville, including the Jacksonville Jamboree for the fourth straight year.
Now the CBA mentor is hoping that familiarity will pay off in the first round against the No. 11 Monarchs (6-5), who finished second behind Havelock in the Coastal Conference.
Brooks said that he told his players: “You don’t know that bus ride to Western Alamance or Eastern Guilford but you know the bus route to Jacksonville. … So I think and I hope that it will give us an advantage.”
The Falcons (7-4), the No. 3 3-A team in the 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference, are ready to play a day early, Brooks said.
“We’ve been going (practicing) at 6:50 in the morning and I think some of the kids are happy they don’t have to go at 6:50 in the morning!” he said with a laugh.
Aycock’s multi-pronged offense has powerful senior fullback Tae Jackson running beside Seth Shephard while junior quarterback Clay Matthews has senior Alijuan Moore as his top target.
Northside counters with senior athlete Ja’Qurious Conley, who has committed to the University of North Carolina.