ROWLAND — South Robeson’s ability to overcome adversity has been its calling card this season and last week’s win over West Columbus proved the Mustangs still had something left in the tank after a disastrous first quarter left the home sideline searching for answers.
“We didn’t think they had done anything to beat us, but we were beating ourselves,” South Robeson coach Stephen Roberson said before Tuesday’s practice. “They returned the opening kickoff, then one of their next kicks hit our upback and they recovered. It wasn’t a good start, but we felt like we were playing fine defensively.”
South Robeson (8-5) escaped an early 10-point hole with one of its top rushing efforts of the season behind an offensive line that opened running room for Juan Ellerbe and Andrew Hill throughout.
Friday’s third-round game at top-seeded Albemarle (10-3) is where the Mustangs intended to be at this junction, the opportunity at another crack at the 1A power Bulldogs. Since stumbling to an 0-2 start, Seth Smith’s team has won 10 of their last 11 games including six straight by an average of 46.2 points per contest.
“They’re an all-around good team … no one’s expecting us to go there and win,” Roberson said.”We’re enjoying it and we’re not putting any pressure on ourselves. The pressure’s on Albemarle.”
Last season, South Robeson traveled on a quiet bus ride back to Rowland after a 63-0 loss to the Bulldogs in the opening round of the playoffs.
“We differ in every phase of the game compared to last year’s team,” Roberson said. “Kalvis (Chavis) was getting his third start as a quarterback and all of our players had no previous playoff experience. I think the guys will respond differently this time around.
“The game got out of control last time. That can’t happen Friday night.”
Harassing dual-threat senior quarterback Bryan Blanton is what linebacker Tyler Roller and rest of South Robeson’s starting defense plans on doing during what’s expected to be a chilly night with temperates near freezing. Albemarle’s defense is equally proficient as its offense, giving up just 18.1 points per game.
“We’ll take what they give us,” Roberson said. “I think we can be balanced, we’ve shown it at times this season. Our offensive line will have to be steady and give Kalvis a little time to make his reads. The run lanes are going to be there, it’s just a matter of creating a crease.”
PREVIEWING FRIDAY’S THIRD-ROUND MATCHUP
South Robeson (8-5) at Albemarle (10-3)
Coaches: ALB — Seth Smith; SR — Stephen Roberson
Recent history: South Robeson lost to Albemarle in the first round of the 2012 1A playoffs, 63-0.
What to watch: Can the Mustangs continue their dominate ground game against a defense giving up just 18.1 points per game this season? That could be what ultimately decides this season for the Mustangs, a South Robeson program that’s won the most games in a single campaign since capturing 12 victories in 2002. Coach Stephen Roberson’s blended power and speed in the backfield behind one of the area’s best offensive lines that has churned out two 1,000-yard rushers this season. The Mustangs coach raves about Albemarle senior wideout Tim White, the Bulldogs’ top playmaker. White’s caught 37 passes this season for 1,169 yards and 13 touchdowns. He’s Albemarle’s Andrew Hill. “I haven’t seen anybody that could stay on top of him during our film review,” Roberson said. “He’s not very big, but he’s fast and really athletic.”
Keep an eye on: Albemarle senior quarterback Bryan Blanton’s accounted for 30 touchdowns this season with 1,981 passing and 367 on the ground. The Bulldogs don’t have a 1,000-yard rusher, but five different ballcarriers have at least 300 yards.
Reach staff writer Brad Crawford at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.