RED SPRINGS — It’s more than just a rivalry game Friday night as St. Pauls travels to Red Springs; it’s the Three Rivers Conference opener for two teams that have aspirations of claiming a conference title.
Both teams come in riding wins after Red Springs (3-1) defeated Lakewood 12-7 at home last week and St. Pauls (2-2) is coming off a bye week after defeating West Bladen 30-7 two weeks ago.
“It’s more important to us that it’s not the rivalry part as much as the first conference game,” Red Springs coach Ron Cook said. “We need to make a statement by winning our conference games. It doesn’t matter who we play as long as it’s a conference game. It just adds fuel to the fire that it’s St. Pauls.”
Feeling that the turning point was the second half of the East Bladen game, the Bulldogs see Red Springs as an opponent that can give them a gauge on its progression this season.
“When it’s all said and done, it’s a rivalry,” St. Pauls coach Ernest King said. “Red Springs is a great measuring stone for us to see how far we’ve come as a program in such a short period time.”
The defensive side of the ball has been one of the greater improvements since the season started for St. Pauls and it will be tested against the array of offenses that the Red Devils have with power running formations to go along with a spread aspect.
“I think we defend the run pretty good, but we definitely worked on defending the pass,” King said. “They’ve got a pretty good receiving corps, a good tight end and that’s something we really concentrated on to make sure we do our job and take away the deep ball.”
Two powerful offensive and defensive fronts will collide at the line of scrimmage all game with both teams having a variance on how they run the ball. Red Springs’ mostly power-run game will take on St. Pauls’ defensive front led by nose tackle Elijah White that Cook said can cause problems with how he gets off the ball so quickly.
“We just want to make sure that we’re real physical up front and disciplined,” Cook said. “To begin the season against Sandhills and a lot against Purnell we just had way too many penalties where we started the drive going backwards.”
King sees the different backs that Red Springs throws at teams with Eric Graham, Justin Locklear and Marquis Ray as threats you have to control with physicality.
“They’ve got variety of running backs that every one of them will run hard,” King said. “We’re trying to make sure we attack it right now and try and play as much smash-mouth football with them as possible because that’s what they do.”
While Red Springs has its power-run game, St. Pauls is more finesse on offense, starting with the read option with quarterback Noah Wheeler and running back Chris Graham.
“Our offensive line has to come out and block and do what it’s supposed to do,” King said.
Staying fundamentally sound on defense and staying true to its assignments is how Red Springs plans to take on the rushing attack.
“I think we’ve got a good plan for it and how we’re going to handle it,” Cook said of defending the read option. “As long as I’ve been coaching, I’ve probably had to deal with one or two option teams every single year.”
Red Springs has won the last two games in the series. St. Pauls’ last win came in 2013 with a 45-43 victory, the last season in which the Bulldogs made the state playoffs.
Fairmont (1-3) at South Robeson (0-4)
After picking up its first win of the season last week at South Brunswick, Fairmont opens TRC play on the road at South Robeson.
Following two quiet games offensively against Carolina Forest and Ashley, the Golden Tornadoes posted a season-high 37 points last week in the win. Quarterback Julius Caulder has passed for more than 1,000 yards through four games and has connected with receiver Jarique Moore for six of his eight passing touchdowns. Moore has 462 yards receiving.
The Mustangs fell 44-14 last week to Lake View and are still in search of their first win. The squad will look to build successful drives with its Wing-T offense against the Fairmont run defense that has had problems stopping the ball at times.
Fairmont won 42-6 last year over South Robeson.
Purnell Swett (3-2) at New Hanover (1-3)
The Rams look to build off last week’s emotional 23-8 win over Jack Britt at home and will finish off non-conference play at New Hanover.
The run game dominated for Purnell Swett in the win last week with Al’Drique Thompson finishing with 117 yards and two touchdowns. Also sharing time with Thompson in the backfield is Deandre Pankey, Damion Holloway and quarterback Luke Oxendine.
Two late interceptions by cornerback Jessup Oxendine capped off the night for the Rams’ defense that held the Bucs to 97 yards of total offense and has turned a new page this season.
New Hanover handed the Rams a 30-20 loss last season with late penalties costing Purnell Swett at home after cutting the lead to four points in the fourth quarter.
Lumberton (2-3) at Triton (3-1)
Lumberton looks to get back to .500 for the season entering Southeastern Conference play with a road game at Triton.
After a come-from-behind win at Overhills last week, the Pirates were able to shake off the second-half woes that had been their demise in losses to South View and Seventy-First. Tae Tae Stephenson scored two rushing touchdowns and has three over the past two games at running back, while also being a key cog at linebacker for the defensive side.
Lumberton won 38-14 last year at home against Triton.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.