Like many coaches across the country, Scotland football coach Richard Bailey isn’t the biggest fan of Homecoming.
“I never met a coach that liked Homecoming, because it’s always tough to keep your players focused and attentive during the week,” he said. “Homecoming is about the students that already graduated, and I think somewhere along the line it lost its meaning. This team isn’t coming home, it’s already here.”
For the Fighting Scots, the week of distractions and festivities came at an inopportune time. After a two-game road trip, the Scots return home Friday night to take on Purnell Swett in their first Southeastern Conference matchup of the season.
Scotland is fresh off a bye week which came after the Scots won three straight games and appeared to find their identity on both sides of the football. Quality wins over Marlboro County and Jack Britt have propelled Scotland to a 4-1 record and placed the team firmly in the conversation as one of the best in the state (they are currently ranked 10th in North Carolina based on several polls).
But for Bailey, none of that matters now. The real season has now begun.
“The previous games helped prepare us for this point, but you can throw them out because it’s what we do over these next five games that really matters,” Bailey said. “There’s no more do overs, no more second chances. The season starts now for us.”
The 2-3 record that the Rams have compiled over the course of the 2012 season could be misleading if one doesn’t look more closely at the games played.
The three losses that the Rams have endured came at the hands of Pine Forest, Hoggard and New Hanover, with the latter two teams remaining unbeaten and considered amongst the top in the state. The single blemish on the Scots’ record this year came at the hands of the New Hanover Wildcats, who beat Scotland at home 21-16 to break their winning streak dating back to last year’s 4-A state championship run.
In terms of what Purnell Swett seeks to accomplish, the videotape available on the Rams reveals a team that has no qualms with changing their game plan based on the opponent they face.
“I think they’re torn about what they want to do, at least offensively,” Bailey said. “Some tape shows them throwing the ball a lot, and then you’ll watch footage where they keep it on the ground. They give teams multiple looks, and that makes them a team that’s hard to prepare for and scout.”
One of the constants on the Rams’ offense is junior running back Andrew Hill, who has fueled the Purnell Swett attack this year with a mixture of big-play speed and the ability to catch out of the backfield.
Defensively, Bailey has noticed Purnell Swett’s tendency to employ several different defensive packages, including 3-4, 4-4 and 3-3 stack formations. Linebacker Chuck Oxendine’s ability to make open-field tackles has drawn the attention of the Scots’ coaching staff, while the Rams’ 6’2”, 295-pound senior nose tackle Webster Mitchell has proven himself to be formidable as well.
The magnitude of the game between Scotland and Purnell Swett hasn’t fallen on deaf ears, to be sure. Because in a conference schedule where every game becomes a statement, jumping out of the gate with a big win could be the biggest statement of all.
According to Bailey, all of the Scots’ conference foes will be watching.
“In truth, you want to see how you compare with all of the other teams in the conference,” Bailey said. “I tell my guys that you can’t look at the scoreboards week after week because every game is different. But the reality is, we all tend to look at the conference games played to get an idea of how we stack up to everyone.”