Rest assured, though, coach George Coltharp and his team isn’t looking ahead with rival Fairmont coming to “The Inferno” tonight. The Golden Tornadoes have owned the series in recent years and are playing with caution to the wind after being banned from the postseason.
“Those guys got talent and we know they’re coming in to knock us off the pedestal,” Coltharp said. “We’re worried about ourselves and controlling the controllables. That’s what I’ve told my kids this week. We aren’t saving anything for South Robeson next week. We’ll stress tempo like we always try to do.”
Week 8 record: 3-2; Overall: 31-10
What has happened to Lumberton? The Pirates dropped to 0-2 in the SEC with a 28-point loss to Hoke after being shutout at Pinecrest the previous week. The road to the postseason isn’t any easier with Lumberton’s next two games against Richmond and Scotland, two squads ranked in the 4A Top 10.
Fairmont (4-4) at Red Springs (5-3)
If you would’ve asked me in July, I fully expected this game to determine the champion of the Three Rivers Conference. The two-time defending champs against the 10-win newcomers with the county’s best player. Things have changed drastically in three months and now the Golden Tornadoes are just focusing on building for next season under a new regime. Misfortune and sheer bad luck has struck James Atkinson during his first year, but he has the necessary tools and discipline in place to right the ship in the future. Tonight could be the first step toward next season in that regard. But the Red Devils, winners of six of their last seven conference games, will have something to say about that.
Red Springs 28, Fairmont 14
St. Pauls (6-2) at East Columbus (4-4)
Will the Bulldogs be able to control tempo against one of the toughest defenses they’ve faced this season? That’s the question this week against a Gators squad intent on bouncing back from last week’s loss to Red Springs. Like South Robeson tried against St. Pauls, East Columbus’ sights are set on a grudge match with few possessions and a dominant ground game. If the Gators get an early lead, St. Pauls could be in trouble playing from behind. This is only the second time all season I’ve picked against the Bulldogs, so maybe the fanbase will cut me some slack this week. The Gators’ ability to move the ball on the ground and keep St. Pauls’ offense off the field will prove the difference.
East Columbus 34, St. Pauls 28
West Columbus (4-4) at South Robeson (2-5)
Can the Mustangs capture a conference win in Stephen Roberson’s first season? They’re running out of chances with Red Springs and East Columbus waiting in the wings, so tonight’s a big one in Rowland. Both squads have similar styles but the Mustang offense has taken a step back in recent weeks. Turnovers and field position has been the main culprit, things that don’t change overnight. A crucial stop or mistake will decide this one and I don’t know if South Robeson has the horses to overcome a bad snap or short punt against a team flowing with confidence. This could be Robeson County’s game of the week involving a pair of evenly-matched programs.
West Columbus 26, South Robeson 20
Pinecrest (4-4) at Purnell Swett (2-5)
As bad as it has gone this season in Pembroke, the Rams could make the playoffs — that’s right, the postseason — with three wins to finish out the regular season. And it’s three opponents that Swett matches up well against. The first step is tonight against Pinecrest, a conference rivalry that’s normally decided in the fourth quarter. Things have gotten nasty a couple times in this series — especially in Southern Pines — marred by disputed calls and a plethora of flags. This one could be a see-saw battle if Swett ramps up the intensity or could be another lopsided loss depending on the Rams’ ability to limit mistakes when they have the football. Should be a good one because it usually is between these two.
Pinecrest 20, Swett 14
Richmond (7-0) at Lumberton (4-3)
Richmond brings its unbeaten locomotive to Lumberton this week to battle a Pirates squad looking to keep things interesting in the fourth quarter. During Mike Brill’s tenure, Lumberton has done a great job hanging with the Raiders and making them sweat in crunch time with a defense-first mentality. It hasn’t equated to victories, but the Pirates’ confidence is high against a perennial power that often has Scotland between the crosshairs at this point of the season. Richmond won’t overlook this road game, but with the same token, Lumberton hasn’t played with the same swagger it showed the first month of the season during the last two weeks in games that determine playoff seeding. Injuries are beginning to mount for the Pirates and battling a title contender with half your opening day starters usually results in a four-quarter headache.
Richmond 38, Lumberton 14