LAURINBURG — While Scotland’s non-conference schedule features a bevy of road games, the Scots will play three of their five Southeastern Conference games at Pate Stadium.
Five of Scotland’s first seven games this season will take place away from Laurinburg, a stretch that includes the SEC opener against Purnell Swett in Pembroke, but the Scots end the year with three of their final four contests at home.
Richard Bailey’s program is the preseason favorite to win its fifth straight SEC title — at the SEC coaches meeting with the media Sunday at Bayonet Creek Golf Course at Puppy Creek, Scotland was picked to win the conference championship by a near-unanimous vote.
The Scots garnered all eight of the first-place votes submitted by the media, and five of the six SEC coaches tabbed Bailey’s squad as the team to beat. Lumberton was the only other school that received a first-place vote.
Scotland has yet to lost a conference game since Bailey took over for former coach Chip Williams in 2012. The last time the Scots dropped an SEC game was Nov. 5, 2010 when Richmond Senior defeated its arch-rival 31-21 in Rockingham.
Scotland wraps up its non-conference schedule Sept. 25 at Panther Creek, then will set its sights on SEC competition. Every team in the conference is off Oct. 2, then will take the field the final five weeks of the season to determine SEC supremacy.
On Oct. 9, the Scots begin the conference season at Purnell Swett, a team led by first-year coach Jon Sherman. Sherman replaces former skipper Mark Heil, who resigned in the offseason and eventually landed at Fairmont after guiding the Rams to a 4-7 (1-4 in the SEC) record last year.
Sherman joins Purnell Swett after serving as the offensive coordinator at Douglas Byrd in 2014 and as the head coach at East Chapel Hill in 2013.
The Scots defeated the Rams 44-10 in their meeting last season in Laurinburg, though Purnell Swett did lead at one point in the second quarter.
Scotland returns home Oct. 16 for perhaps its most important conference game of the season against Pinecrest. The Patriots, coached by Chris Metzger, took the Scots to the brink in Southern Pines last year before falling 29-22 in the waning minutes.
Scotland’s then-freshman tailback Zamir White was handed the ball on a crucial third-and-seven with less than two minutes and scampered down the Scotland sideline for the eventual go-ahead 46-yard touchdown run.
Much is expected of the Patriots this season, a team that finished 11-3 (3-2 in the SEC) in 2014 and advanced to the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs before losing to Wake Forest 45-21.
Both the coaches and the media predicted Pinecrest to supplant Richmond for second place in the SEC, and with returning starting quarterback Christian Ledbetter at the helm and a hard-nosed defense to back him up, the Patriots arguably pose the biggest challenge to Scotland’s spot at the top of the conference.
The following Friday, the Scots welcome Hoke to Laurinburg on Oct. 23. Led by second-year coach Tom Paris, the Bucks finished in a three-way tie for fourth in the conference with a 4-7 (1-4 in the SEC) record during his inaugural campaign.
Hoke welcomes back its best player from last season, all-SEC performer Jacob Rushing, who was one of the few players to rack up consistent production against Scotland’s defense in their meeting in Raeford. The Scots rolled to a 43-9 victory and shutout the Bucks through the first three quarters.
Scotland’s final regular season road game will be played at Lumberton Oct. 30. The Pirates are led by Mike Setzer, who enters his second season with the program.
Lumberton got off to a hot start last year, winning its first three games before dropping six of seven to fall under .500. The Pirates finished 5-6 (1-4 in the SEC), but now-graduated tailback Josh Sheridan won SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors after racking up over 1,600 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Sheridan battled injuries in Lumberton’s visit to Laurinburg last season and was essentially a non-factor as the Scots cruised to a 49-14 victory.
Scotland concludes its conference season at home against Richmond. The Raiders boasted an 11-2 (4-1 in the SEC) record in Paul Hoggard’s final season as coach, losing to Millbrook 28-27 in the second round of the 4AA playoffs.
This offseason has brought a great deal of change to the Raiders program as Hoggard left for Edenton Holmes and the school replaced him with former Middle Creek coach Mike Castellano.
Despite Hoggard’s renowned success at Richmond, which included an 88-19 record and a 2008 state championship, there were undertones of dissatisfaction among the Raiders’ fan base in recent years due to a lack of SEC titles and Scotland’s four-game win streak in the series.
Scotland defeated Richmond 34-13 in Rockingham last year, blowing open a game that was 13-6 at halftime. A 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that spanned nine minutes was the nail in the Richmond coffin, as White culminated the Scots’ march with a 2-yard touchdown run that ultimately sealed the program’s fourth consecutive SEC championship.
Despite the head coaching change, the Raiders will still field a talented team in Castellano’s first year at the helm. Richmond has built a strong junior varsity program over the years with players that will rise to the varsity ranks, and the offense, which scored the most points of any team in the SEC last season, should remain as prolific as ever.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.