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NCHSAA playoffs open for 5 area teams

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At Southern Nash High and SouthWest Edgecombe, respectively, Brian Foster and Jonathan Cobb have their teams in enviable positions as the North Carolina High School Athletic Association football playoffs begin Friday night.

The Firebirds are the No. 2 seed in the 3-A bracket, while the Cougars own the No. 2 position in the 2-AA draw. 

But is it time to start plotting a long-term course through the bracket?

There’s simply no time for that as the Cougars open their postseason journey at home against No. 15 Washington. 

“I told our guys when they came in Monday evening that all state championships go through your current opponent,” Cobb said. “If you want to win a state championship, you’ve got to beat Washington High School, and only them, this week. It doesn’t matter what could be after that. But to do what everybody’s trying to do, nothing matters but what we do against Washington High School.

In three weeks’ time, the Firebirds could board a bus for Havelock to face the top-seeded Rams for a regional championship. 

Or, Havelock could stumble and leave Southern Nash to host the game. 

But for this week, all eyes in Stanhope are upon the No. 15 seed of Charles B. Aycock, winners of three of the last four and playing its best football heading into the postseason.

“The bottom line is, what we’re worried about this week is Aycock,” Foster said. “If we don’t worry about them, then it’s not going to matter about anybody else.”

The other two contests in The Wilson Times readership area feature Beddingfield, seeded No. 9 in the 2-A bracket, making the long trek to Elizabethtown to face East Bladen in a game where the Bruins will be seeking their first playoff victory on the road since 2004 and only the second this century. Greene Central, seeded No. 14 in 2-A, has the challenge of battling unbeaten No. 3 seed South Columbus in Tabor City. The Rams enter having lost two in a row.

As mandated by the NCHSAA, kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at all sites.

BEDDINGFIELD (8-2) AT
EAST BLADEN (9-2)

As the only Wilson County team to make the field, the Bruins paid a massive penalty for their 39-14 loss to SouthWest Edgecombe on Nov. 1, a game that cost Beddingfield its first outright conference title and school history and knocked it off the conference champion tier of seeds. The Bruins stumbled to the No. 9 seed, and as the first 2-A East team to hit the road, must make the 122-mile trek to East Bladen, the runner-up in the split 1-A/2-A Three Rivers Conference.

Second-year head coach James Ward was well aware of the possible consequences following the SouthWest loss, and as such, didn’t bat much of an eye when the brackets told the Bruins to fill up the bus.

“We had everything right there at the house,” Ward said. “We had everything in our hands and dropped the ball. I knew there was a chance once you took all the first-place tiers out of the conferences, and you tier all the second places, I knew there was a chance of us going on the road.”

Waiting for the Bruins will be an East Bladen team expected to utilize the wishbone and wing-T offenses to different extents. Eric Chancy leads the backfield of the Eagles with 971 yards and 11 TDs. Lawson Hester has 727 yards and 12 TDs. Both backs are of similar size.

With a pair of run-oriented attacks, the clock could wind quickly Friday night.

“We’ll see a little bit of wishbone and we’ll see some wing-T,” Ward said. “We’ll see a little bit of spread. They do a little bit of everything, but they’re consistent with what they’ve been doing over the years. It’s nothing new to their kids. We’ve got to go down there and really play.”

The Bruins will have a change at center after sophomore Arnold Pender entered the concussion protocol following an injury sustained a blocking drill. Therefore, senior quarterback Zion Hinnant will be taking the snaps from classmate Willie Bridgers, moving over from another line position. However, Bridgers does own previous experience at the spot.

Ward expects his Bruins to be prepared for “cold-weather football” and cited the need not to repeat the turnover-plagued second half that hampered Beddingfield against the Cougars.

“We’re just going to try to get back to playing some physical football like we did early in the year,” Ward said.

C.B. AYCOCK (5-6) AT SOUTHERN NASH (9-0)

The double-wing offense of Southern Nash is enough of a challenge when it’s on the schedule on an annual basis.

But when you’re an interloper joining the Firebirds’ slate in the postseason? It’s not quite the spread and air raid concepts that eat up the airwaves for youth and high school players.

“The toughest part now about that offense, not only are they really, really good at it, but it’s very hard to simulate during the week,” C.B. Aycock head coach Steve Brooks said. “Kids today don’t see, or are not coming up with the double wing or the wing-T or any of those things. Everybody’s spreading it out and throwing it around, and that’s what kids, when they’re watching football on TV, what they see.”

Finding a way to slow down Southern Nash’s stable of running backs — which Brooks has extended to include junior quarterback Matt Foster — will be key. Senior Zonovan Knight and junior Quinton Cooley have combined for 2,956 yards and 43 TDs. Knight’s yards per carry sits just under 16.2, while Cooley is a shade under 12. That’s a first down, at the very least, on each touch.

Brooks figures the Golden Falcons will see fewer possessions, leaving them to maximize what they get behind junior quarterback Alijuan Moore and junior running back Taevian Jackson.

But in an effort to shore up a defense that has seen its share of attrition, the Firebirds have started to work Knight and Cooley on the defensive side. How much will that affect them running the football?

“We’ve started working Bam (Knight) more on defense and Quinton and Matt,” Brian Foster said. “We’re just trying to make sure we have what we need, and hopefully know how to rotate and get the people in when they need to be in.”

Jackson is far from a slouch for CBA, standing as the No. 3-ranked rusher in the Times readership area with 1,525 yards and 17 TDs. Senior wide receiver Jaylan Robinson accounts for 33 receptions for 484 yards, including seven TDs.

“The running back can hurt you,” Foster said of Jackson. “They’ve got a quarterback that’s capable of throwing big pass plays. We’ll definitely go into situations where we’ll have to be consistent with what we do and hopefully, have a good day offensively.”

Finding the right two-way balancing act with Cooley and Knight, an N.C. State commit, ranks as one of the biggest challenges for the Southern Nash coaching staff.

“I definitely don’t want to take away from what they’ve had going offensively, either,” Foster said of his running backs. “Because they’ve both had special years.”

WASHINGTON (4-6) AT SW EDGECOMBE (9-2)

The first round of the NCHSAA playoffs can often present far-flung matchups, where coaches rely on any and all connections across the state to glean any morsels of information on the opponent.

That will in no way be necessary with Friday’s game in Pinetops when SouthWest Edgecombe plays host to Washington, a pair of teams just two years removed from being 2-A Eastern Plains Conference rivals.

“Washington, for example, is a team that their record is very deceiving,” Cobb said. “Because they’ve been in some close games with some very good football teams like Kinston (27-24 loss) and West Craven (22-7 loss). And our two programs know each other very well since we were in a conference with each other for four years.”

Jon Blank, the Pam Pack’s defensive coordinator during the SouthWest-Washington EPC clashes, has since been elevated to head coach.

SouthWest Edgecombe is coming off a 35-14 loss to county rival and 1-A juggernaut Tarboro where the Cougars played the Vikings even in the second half and became the first team to score in double digits on the Vikings all year.

Junior wide receiver Keishon Porter had a 158-yard night on 10 receptions for the Cougars as senior quarterback Jayden Lewis became the first SouthWest quarterback under Jonathan Cobb — or his father, Raymond — to throw for 1,000 yards in a season.

The Vikings held the Cougars’ ground game in check, limiting what has been a successful run game out of the wishbone to just 70 yards. Seniors Jareil Collins and Darntrell Council patrol the SouthWest backfield, along with sophomore Tayshaun Pittman and junior Cortezz Jones.

“Tarboro was probably the only team we’ve played that really could defend our run with seven in the box,” Cobb said. “And all we were looking for was to keep eight in the box! But I think that we’ve proven ourselves to be multi-talented this year, and we feel like we have a gameplan for taking whatever the defense gives, whereever that is on the field.”

Ganeryan Parker (638 yards, 6 TDs) and Michael Clark (558 yards, 8 TDs) are the primary ball carriers for Washington. 

GREENE CENTRAL (6-5) AT SOUTH COLUMBUS (11-0)

A season that began with high hopes over in Snow Hill has seen its share of tough blows as Greene Central of the Eastern Carolina Conference prepares to make the trip to South Columbus.

First, the Rams lost senior stalwart Walker Sutton along the offensive line. Then, against Farmville Central, junior quarterback B.J. Corbitt was lost, leaving do-it-all senior A.J. Dupree as the next best option.

Since that Farmville Central game, Greene Central is 2-3. But take away a pair of costly red-zone turnovers last week against Kinston, and the Vikings’ 26-24 victory is likely flipped, toppling Kinston from the ranks of the unbeaten.

“I think in the first half, we played as good as we’ve played in the past five or six weeks,” Greene Central head coach Allen Wooten said.

But waiting for Greene Central in a stacked 2-A bracket are the Stallions of South Columbus. As a testament to the strength of the bracket, South Columbus, which ended the season ranked No. 4 in the final Associated Press 2-A poll at 11-0, is the No. 3 seed.

The top 4 seeds — Elizabeth City Northeastern, South Granville, South Columbus and Kinston — are all without a loss.

Wooten expects a heavy dose of power football out of the Stallions, champions of the split 1-A/2-A Three Rivers Conference.

“They’re big and physical up front on the offensive line,” Wooten said. “It’s a power conference, like the old Eastern Plains.”

Dupree, a candidate for dual Player of the Year honors in the ECC, has run for 1,168 yards and 16 TDs.

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