ROWLAND — Stephen Roberson’s been through the ringer during his second season as South Robeson’s football coach.
Monday’s off-campus errand as his team prepped for a second-round playoff game came as no surprise, an impromptu stop at a local laundromat to clean last week’s dirty uniforms while the school’s washing machine waited on repairs.
There wasn’t time for film study, only equipment manager duties.
That’s how it works at a 1A program with limited resources and no private funding.
“It takes a lot of patience,” Roberson said. “It’s hard to have a lot of patience when you look around and see things being done at other schools and you kind of start to wonder when we’ll get our chance.”
Roberson’s two-year turnaround at South Robeson had its crowning moment last week when the Mustangs won a playoff game for the first time in 11 years despite a limited number of assistants, little support from the community and a roster that’s thin on depth with just 33 players.
Roberson says playoff wins are nice but in order to build a perennial threat in Rowland, something will have to be done about playing in a split conference as the second smallest school out of eight. South Robeson’s average daily membership this school year is 481. Co-conference champions Whiteville and South Columbus average nearly 300 more students.
“When I look at my schedule this year, we did well against the six comparable teams with similar-sized schools,” Roberson said. “We didn’t fare too well against the teams with more numbers. The most important thing about finding consistency is finding teams on your level and getting guys that expect to win week in and week out.
“We’re going to lose a lot of seniors and our (junior varsity) numbers aren’t great, so we’ll have to grind harder and harder each year just to keep up.”
Outside of family and friends that have attended every home game this season, the sparse crowd at the Mustangs’ playoff opener was a good indicator of a stale fanbase that’s grown accustomed to losing. Other than a few amped up players at practice, it seems basketball season couldn’t come any sooner.
“Everyone wants to watch a winner and winning games is what’s going get people back in the stands,” Roberson said. “That’s the focal point, but I think if the kids are having fun, I’m having fun and the community will as well.”
As a former 4A assistant who accepted the challenge of taking over one of the state’s worst programs in 2012 that had lost 15 consecutive games, Roberson’s made it his goal to get Robeson County’s smallest team back to respectability. Last week, the Mustangs had a chance to set the school’s single-game scoring record of 71 points after they reached 64 in the third quarter against Atkins.
Having a few standout players has certainly made the job much easier in Year 2.
Senior quarterback Kalvis Chavis, who’s rarely in the limelight, is the facilitator of the Mustangs’ run-heavy attack. He has the county’s second-best touchdown-to-interception ratio and is a reliable option in third-down situations despite completing only 44 passes this season.
The numbers could be better in a more balanced scheme, but Chavis is focused on wins according to his coach.
“He always puts his ego to the side,” Roberson said. “He’s had some good games where he’s actually led us with good passing numbers, but he only worries on what’s necessary for us to win. If (West Columbus) forces us to throw, he knows we’ll call his number.”
South Robeson beat the Vikings earlier this season but the Mustangs’ coaching staff has acknowledged improvements the opposition has made on both sides of the football since they last met on Oct. 25.
“They’re going to line you up with double tight (ends) and run the ball right at you,” Roberson said. “They’re a tough team and we know at some point in the game, we’re going to be in a dog fight and we’ll have to tough it out.”
A potential third-round battle at Albemarle looms should the Mustangs get past the Vikings. The Bulldogs (9-3) beat South Robeson in last season’s first round, 63-0.
“We’ll worry about them after this week,” Roberson said. “Our only focus is West Columbus.”
PREVIEWING FRIDAY’S SECOND-ROUND MATCHUP
West Columbus (3-9) at South Robeson (7-5)
Coaches: WC — Mark Little; SR — Stephen Roberson
Recent history: South Robeson overcame a second-half deficit earlier this season to beat West Columbus, 36-21.
What to watch: West Columbus didn’t win a game in Three Rivers Conference play this season, but here the Vikings are in the second round of the state playoffs after a upset at the Community School of Davidson last week. Led by junior tailback Rostin Bromell, the Vikings have picked a good time to play their best football of the season and have seen solid play up front from an inexperienced offensive line. South Robeson’s in the same boat numbers wise with less than 35 players available for Friday’s game. The Mustangs had one of the league’s best rushing offenses during the regular season and brought that to the playoffs last week with a 450-yard effort against Atkins. South Robeson has two 1,000-yard rushers and a senior quarterback who’s helped his team to their highest win total since 2002.
Keep an eye on: Andrew Hill is the best player on the field and one of the best in the state at the 1A level. South Robeson will go as far as No. 1 takes them, but when he’s not on, Juan Ellerbe’s just as lethal. The pair produces touchdowns and makes average offensive line play appear potent.
Reach staff writer Brad Crawford at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.