LUMBERTON — Ahead of his team’s season opener on Friday night against Hunt High School, Lumberton coach Mike Setzer wanted to see his guys play harder than their opponent and focus on themselves.
It appeared the Pirates got the message as they went on to drub the Warriors in an 40-0 win to open the season, earning their first shutout since the 2014 opener.
“I really liked our team’s performance,” Setzer said. “We’ve had a lot of mistakes here in the last couple of weeks, and we’ve talked about cutting that out and playing harder than the people we’re playing against. That’s really what our focus is this year.
“It’s about playing harder than everybody else and understanding that you’re in control of your future — it’s not about what everyone else is saying.”
Sophomore quarterback Braylan Grice threw four touchdowns to lead the Pirates (1-0), with junior tailback Montrez Howell rushing for 120 yards in his debut as the starting running back.
After losing to Hunt 28-20 last season in Wilson, Grice said he knew his team would be ready to put that behind them on Friday.
“We had a lot more heart than we had last year,” he said. “I thought that really carried the team. It was a good win.”
Throwing touchdown passes to four different receivers, Grice tossed three scores in an 26-0 first half, opening the scoring with an 3-yard toss to Kanyon Lambert, followed by an 8-yard pass to Tyreik McCallum and a 21-yarder to Da’Shaun McNeill.
The passing opportunities were made available by Howell, who punished the Warriors with his hard-nosed running style throughout the night.
For Setzer, it was quite the debut for a tailback that is replacing Troy Mitchell, who tallied 1,501 yards on the ground last season for the Pirates.
“He’s got a lot on his back with the last two guys that left here (Josh Sheridan and Mitchell),” Setzer said. “The last few weeks we’ve kind of backed off and let him come into his own. He’s really worked hard in the weight room and he’s doing a good job.”
Howell said it was an “OK” debut out of the backfield.
“I have to take the next step and build off of it,” he said. “They (Sheridan and Mitchell) ran hard all the time and I just learned from them.”
The defense was just as impressive for the Pirates, who forced three turnovers. Junior linebacker Devonta McKoy led the effort with six tackles and a pair of fumble recoveries, including an 34-yard return for a touchdown in the first half.
“That guy has so much potential and he’s a young guy,” Setzer said of McKoy. “Every time you think he might be peaking, he cracks another glass ceiling. We’re excited about him.”
Grice threw his final touchdown pass in the third quarter on a flip to Brandon Norris from five yards out and Jameck Pendergrass capped the scoring with an 8-yard rush for the final tally.
The Pirates led 26-0 at the break.
Alexis Ard made history for Lumberton as the first female kicker to participate in a high school football game for the program. Ard was a perfect 2-for-2 on extra points in her debut.
Lumberton hosts Pine Forest at 7:30 p.m. next Friday.
“We’re just going to take this and build off of it,” Grice said. “Some of the mental mistakes we made, we’re going to fix that.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.