FAIRMONT — In preparation for Friday’s game against Whiteville, Fairmont football coach Mark Heil has made it a point of emphasis to drive one key home with his players: stop the dive.
“If you want to put a main thing on how this game will go, it’s real simple: the dive has to be stopped,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been preaching all week.”
With Three Rivers Conference play getting into full swing, the Golden Tornadoes (2-3) welcome the Wolfpack (2-3) to Fairmont at 7 p.m. Friday in a rematch of two teams that shared the conference championship along with South Columbus last season.
Whiteville, the consistent perennial power, has limped out of the gate with two of its losses coming on the road. But coming off a 51-0 win over West Columbus, Heil knows the Wolfpack will present a tremendous challenge, especially in the running game.
“They’re well coached; you don’t see them make many mistakes,” he said. “That’s what we’ll have to do. We have to be disciplined against their option. We can’t bite on things.”
After starting the season 0-3, the Tornadoes have scored 37 and 56 points in back-to-back wins over South Brunswick and South Robeson. The wins have been keyed by better defense and balanced offensive play.
“I won’t say we’ve played great but we’ve definitely played better,” Heil said. “Our defense is improving, but we’re playing a good quality football team this week.”
Fairmont displayed a potent rushing attack with Jarique Moore and Halijah McLean last week, with Moore rushing for 108 yards and McLean adding 113. Both scored a pair of rushing touchdowns.
After leaving last week’s game with an injury, Julius Caulder will resume his role under center for the Golden Tornadoes, moving Moore back to the outside, but Heil hopes to keep pounding the ball with McLean.
“We like running the football,”he said. “He (Halijah) is a senior and he wants it. First of all, when we run the ball, we’re holding onto the ball and running the clock. They’re an extremely strong running team. So, if we don’t stop that it’s going to be a long night.”
Whiteville claimed a 35-14 win over Fairmont last season, but the game was much closer than the final score indicated. The Golden Tornadoes forced four turnovers in the contest and had little trouble getting inside the red zone. The problem, however, was crossing the goal line.
“We’ll have to find some gaps on offense, like we didn’t do last year,” Heil said. “We had chances to score, but we couldn’t find areas to exploit, especially in red zone. We have to be ready to go.”
St. Pauls (3-2) at South Robeson (0-5)
The hottest team in Robeson County as winners of three of its last four games, St. Pauls heads to Rowland with some swagger after earning a 25-12 win at Red Springs last week. Looking to get to 2-0 in conference play, the Bulldogs face a winless South Robeson team who lost 56-12 to Fairmont last week. Expect a heavy dose of running back Chris Graham and quarterback Noah Wheeler in this one for the Bulldogs, who won 12-6 last season against the Mustangs.
Red Springs (3-2) at East Columbus (0-5)
After starting the year with a 3-1 mark, the Red Devils were plagued by turnovers and missed opportunities in their home loss to St. Pauls last week, starting conference play 0-1. Red Springs will look to get back on track as it travels to Lake Waccamaw to take on a winless East Columbus team. The Red Devils claimed a 47-0 win over the Gators last season.
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.