As the Lumberton football team was preparing for the upcoming season, there seemed to be a constant buzz about the team’s season opener against Douglas Byrd. Even knowing that the Eagles aren’t as strong as they’ve ever been, it was a game that would serve as a benchmark, a test to set the bar for the rest of the season.
Suffice it to say, the Pirates passed, beating the Eagles 38-0.
The Pirates put up double the yards they allowed and had the school’s first shutout win since the 2009 season, keeping them right on pace with the Southeastern Conference’s elite teams, including Scotland, who won 52-0 to start the year.
Afterwards I talked to several fans, players and coaches, few of whom doubted the team’s ability coming in, but nearly all were surprised by just how big of a win it was.
What impressed me wasn’t the statistics, but watching how the team responded in several key instances. The Eagles had an opening drive that started on the Pirate 45 after a 40-yard kickoff return, but the defense forced a three-and-out.
When Byrd got on a roll late in the first quarter with a string of complete passes, Josh Murphy had two sacks in a row that forced a loss of 15 yards. Even late in the first half, Byrd forced a first-and-goal scenario at the nine, and on third down threw up a pass that seemed bound to break the shutout until Devante Stephens came out of nowhere with a swat, which Travis Suggs followed with an interception on the next play.
The question now is whether the Pirates can keep the momentum moving forward, especially with an unrelenting schedule. At the least, the team has turned a few heads.
6) South Robeson (0-1)
at Trinity Christian
With a new coach and a new backfield, it was clear entering the year that things would be different at South Robeson. There were positives for the Mustangs in Week 1 but few of them showed up on the score sheet, where they were outscored 42-0 in the first half against West Bladen and only mustered enough offense to get a touchdown in the fourth quarter, when many starters were already sitting. They have an easy schedule compared to other county teams but the Mustangs still need to improve to compete.
5) Red Springs (0-1)
This week: at Purnell Swett
Even with a new coach and a new offensive system, the Red Devils had their highlights in a 47-30 loss at White Oak. The problem was defensively, where they struggled to finish tackles and allowed numerous big plays, allowing 35 points by halftime. New coach Ron Cook beat the Rams last year with Lumberton but if the Red Devils struggle to start against Purnell Swett, the game could get away early.
4) Fairmont (0-1)
This week: Off
Fairmont faced all the wrong emotions last weekend, when the Golden Tornadoes were beat 50-30 by East Bladen and found out less than 12 hours later that a pair of former players — Derrick Baker and Andrew Hill — passed away in a car accident in South Carolina. The week off gives the team time to not only get over the struggles from the first game but help deal with the emotions of losing a friend.
3) Purnell Swett (0-1)
This week: vs. Red Springs
Similar to St. Pauls, the Rams had their chances last week but let the heat get to them. After going up 21-14 in the fourth quarter, they allowed 21 straight points to end the game. The first three quarters played well but once fatigue set in, Purnell Sweet’s early effort was negated, something the Rams will need to avoid again. In a bout between two teams that are at vastly different stages, Red Springs should be an easier test, especially if the Devils struggle out of the gate.
2) St. Pauls (0-1)
This week: at South Brunswick
The Bulldogs biggest opponent in Week 1 wasn’t necessarily Gray’s Creek, but mother nature. Under the heat and humidity, St. Pauls lost key players to cramping and other heat related injuries and at times were down to their third string. Tonight will be another warm one but if the Bulldogs can stay cool enough they’ll fight for the win.
1) Lumberton (1-0)
This week: vs. Pine Forest
The Pirate coaching staff expected a win on opening night, but few expected the dominance that the Pirates showed. Not only did the revamped offense thrive behind Josh Sheridan’s running, but the defense stopped everything thrown at it, including several goal-line stands. It’s telling that in Week 1, the Pirates were only one of two SEC teams to post a shutout, their first in five years. Pine Forest won’t be a pushover, but if Lumberton can play similarly to Week 1, it will be the team’s first 2-0 start since 2011.
Friday’s quick predictions:
Lumberton beats Pine Forest
Purnell Swett beats Red Springs
St. Pauls beats South Brunswick
South Robeson loses to Trinity Christian