More importantly, this is a unit we should be talking about in November.
Mike Brill and his players put most skeptics — including myself — to bed Friday night with a strong effort on both sides of the ball during a last-second win over Athens Drive.
While I accurately predicted Friday’s final score, Lumberton showed a mental toughness noteworthy of a program set on challenging for a conference championship even if it has to go through two of the state’s top teams to do so.
Through the first four games of the season, I wasn’t sure if the Pirates had the “It” factor but they’ve proved me wrong. Since Brill arrived in 2007, Lumberton’s best attribute has been its ability to win the games it’s supposed to win. Very rarely are the Pirates under-prepared, and they’ve seemed to thrive in recent years under the “no one respects us” mentality.
Preferring to play with a chip on its shoulder, Lumberton is a dangerous football team.
Doubt crept into my mind on just how strong this year’s group would be when injuries mounted early in the season. Lumberton showed its inexperience against South View when it couldn’t step on the gas with a three-touchdown lead and struggled stopping the run against mismatched and winless Seventy-First.
The underlying point in those two games, however, was the Pirates ability to win both games, turning points in the maturation process during the team’s current three-game win streak.
Brill, one of the state’s best at developing schemes to shut down what opponents do best, now has two full weeks to prepare his team for the SEC opener at Pinecrest. Picked by most (we had the Pirates third) to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack, Lumberton has the talent to challenge the league’s three current heavyweights — Hoke, Scotland and Richmond. Allen Thompson has returned from injury, linebacker Mac McGill is playing at an all-state level alongside veteran Ahmad Smith and few teams have the depth at running back that the Pirates possess.
It’s hard to overlook Lumberton’s most underrated unit, its defensive line. An athletic bunch that leads the area in sacks and tackles-for-loss, Ramell Davis anchors the first line of defense for a group comparable to what the Pirates had in 2009 and 2010. A relative unknown prior to the season, opposing coaches covet the production defensive end Jermaine Williams, a 6-foot-3 225-pound sophomore, has brought at the line of scrimmage. He’s only played in five varsity games but has proved he’s already stronger — and faster — than most offensive lineman trying to shove him off course.
Williams has softened the blow of two-time all-county end Darius Lesane’s departure with a team-leading 5.5 sacks this season.
A season that looked grim early with key-position injuries and an inconsistent offense is shaping up nicely for the Pirates. We’ll see how they finish for Brill — who just passed Tunney Brooks’ school-record winning percentage at .636 (42-25) — in his final campaign.