First Posted: 1/15/2009
Home sweet home.
If the saying is music to a coach's ears, then come playoff time it must sound like a 12-piece orchestra.
There really is no substitute for playing games on your own turf, where a hostile crowd is ready to greet an opponent that's likely had plenty of travel distractions along the way.
Thanks to a nine-win season, St. Pauls will have all the comforts of home when the first round of the Class 2-AA state playoffs begins Friday at Bulldog Stadium. The Bull-dogs (9-2) enter the showdown with a No. 2 seed out of the East Bracket, while their opponent, Southwest Edgecombe, will have do its damage as the No. 15 seed.
St. Pauls has more wins than the Cougars (4-6), a higher seed and the luxury of playing in its own backyard, but head coach Tasker Fleming knows none of that will matter if his team doesn't take care of business this weekend.
“We are fortunate if you look ahead,” said Fleming, whose team has the benefit of playing three straight home playoff games should they advance that far. “But honestly, our guys are looking to this week. And it's easy for them to look to this week because some of our guys were around three years ago when we lost in the first round of the playoffs.”
To make matters more difficult, SW Edgecombe is a squad that can be hard to size up at times.
Even head coach Shawn Talbott admits the Cougars have been inconsistent, which he believes is largely due to their youth and inexperience. Not only did the program fail to win a game last season, it began the 2003 campaign with 30 juniors and just six seniors.
That has translated into an up-and-down year at best for SW Edgecombe, which took undefeated North Edgecombe down to the wire late in the season before suffering a 12-7 defeat.
Although the Cougars came out on the wrong end of that showdown, Talbott said the key in that game will once again be vital against St. Pauls.
“The key for us, like always, is penalties and turnovers,” he said. “They seem to be the thing that has haunted us all year. I think if we can eliminate those it will be a good game.”
SW Edgecombe will also need some help from its offense, which likes to spread the ball around.
Tailback Demetrius Mayberry leads the way with 308 yards rushing, while Dede Bush sits just four yards back.
Trevor Cybert has been taking most of the snaps at quarterback and has thrown for 414 yards on 35 of 84 passing.
However, it will be a staunch test to make much of a dent in the Bulldogs' defense, which has recorded five shutouts this season.
Talbott said a rigorous schedule in the Eastern Plains Confer-ence has prepared his team for the Bulldogs.
“I know St. Pauls has a lot of team speed on defense, but we play a pretty tough schedule,” Talbott said. “We've played some teams with speed in Tarboro and North Edgecombe, and we matched up pretty well in that department.”
According to Fleming, the two teams have one thing in common that should make for an interesting game.
“I think both squads are going to be excited about being there Friday night,” he said. “We haven't been there in a couple of years and neither have they, and that should make it enjoyable for both teams.”
South Robeson at North Rowan
The Mustangs (5-5) are in the playoffs for the 11th consecutive season, although this time around wasn't exactly a walk in the park.
South Robeson had to win its final two games against Tri-Six Conference opponents Fairmont and Red Springs just to get back to .500, which eventually earned them the No. 12 seed in the Class 2-A West bracket. That puts the Mustangs on the road Friday against North Rowan, which is the No. 5 seed.
South Robeson head coach Barry Leonard knows his players have their work cut out for them against the Cavaliers (7-3).
“Any time you get in the playoffs it's going to be a challenge,” said Leonard, who noted several of his players were battling the flu this week. “They've got a great, big offensive line and their quarterback is pretty athletic.”
North Rowan's quarterback Sakelo Lilly is always a handful for opposing defenses with his scrambling ability. Behind Lilly is the backfield tandem of Lamont Savage and Mark Sturgis, who share the bulk of the running duties in a one-back set.
Overall, the offense is a fast unit that has the skill players to put up points, which is something the Mustangs' offense hasn't been known for this season.
“We don't need to get in a shootout,” said Leonard, whose team scored 13 points or less five times in 10 games. “Any time you have an explosive offense like that you want to try to keep the ball out of their hands as much as possible.”
Purnell Swett at Waddell
The Rams (3-8) thought they needed a win against Pine Forest last week to qualify for the postseason, but they made it anyway when there weren't enough four-win teams to fill up the West bracket in Class 4-A. The shortage of qualifying clubs ended up being a good thing for Swett, which dropped a 31-22 decision to the Trojans in a Two Rivers Conference clash.
Now armed with the No. 10 seed, Purnell Swett heads to Waddell to take on the No. 7-seeded Raiders (6-4).
Much like the Rams, Waddell has been inconsistent at times this season. However, the Rai-ders do have a solid feature back in Wesley McMahand. The junior arguably had his best game of the season Oct. 3, rumbling for 229 yards and scoring three touchdowns in a 37-6 win over Olympic.
Run defense hasn't been a huge problem for Swett this season, although it did surrender 207 yards on the ground against Pine Forest. Most of that, however, came from quarterback Patrick Pinkney, who scrambled his way to 142 yards.
Purnell Swett head coach Frank Jernigan is hoping things don't go that way this Friday, and he'll be looking to a trio of running backs to make sure that doesn't happen. In the last two games, the threesome of Bryan Howington, Marques Graham and Fred Blackmon have totaled 537 yards rushing and five touchdowns out of the Wing-T offense.
“It's always good if you can sort of even up the carries and the yardage like that,” Jernigan said. “That keeps people from paying attention to one back because it spreads out their concentration.”
Jim Stamm can be reached at 739-4322, Ext. 118 or by e-mail at [email protected]