Southeastern Conference play is finally here.
All six conference teams enjoyed a bye last week to prepare for the most important stretch of the season. The schedule couldn’t have worked out any better, as the teams were spared from playing in the heavy rains that doused most of the state.
In the last power rankings, Pinecrest eclipsed Scotland for the top spots thanks to a pair of impressive non-conference wins coupled with the Scots’ struggles against Marlboro County and Jack Britt. Since then, Scotland has flipped the proverbial switch, dominating New Hanover and Panther Creek. Those performances impressed me enough to put the four-time conference champion back at the top this week.
As always, if you don’t like where I slotted your team, we can have a fruitful discussion about it through a friendly phone call, email, or on social media — but leave the pitchforks at home, please.
Without further ado, here are my rankings entering Week 8.
1. Scotland (6-0)
The Scots followed their 49-28 win over New Hanover in Week 5 with a 49-13 demolition of Panther Creek in Cary two weeks ago.
Zamir White had another 200-yard performance on the ground for Scotland, toting the ball 26 times for 201 yards and four touchdowns in three quarters of action. Quarterback Dashaun Ferguson continues to show improvement in his return from a PCL injury, completing 9 of 11 passes for 128 yards and two scores. Starting receivers Willie Douglas and Randy Leak combined for an impressive showing, hauling in four catches apiece.
On defense, the Scots once again shut down a potent offensive attack as the first-team defense allowed just one touchdown. Safety Jacob Young recorded his first interception of the season, linebacker Wells Graham notched two tackles for loss, and defensive lineman Marcus Brown had a sack.
Up next for Scotland: a trip to Pembroke to play Purnell Swett.
Prediction: Scotland 55, Purnell Swett 13
2. Pinecrest (6-0)
The Patriots were last in action Sept. 23, defeating the Q Foundation 42-6 to keep its undefeated record in tact.
The Falcons posed little challenge to Pinecrest, who a week earlier defeated Woodberry Forest (Va.) in one of the more impressive wins by any SEC team.
All-SEC signal caller Christian Ledbetter wasn’t asked to do much against the Q Foundation, completing 6 of 11 passes for 51 yards and one score. He did lead the team in rushing, racking up 80 yards and another touchdown on six carries. The Patriots finished with 276 yards as a team and averaged 12 yards per rush in the win.
Up next for Pinecrest: a road game at Lumberton to battle the Pirates.
Prediction: Pinecrest 48, Lumberton 20
3. Richmond (5-1)
The Raiders scored a huge win in Greensboro against Dudley when they last took the field, defeating the Panthers 14-12 behind the virtuoso performance of a rapidly improving defense.
Richmond has bounced back from its loss to Butler in a big way and should contend with Scotland and Pinecrest in what will likely be a three-horse race for the SEC title.
Quarterback Leon Zeigler tossed two touchdown passes, and running back Quientel Goodwin finally had a breakthrough game after injuries plagued him at the beginning of year. The senior rushed for 140 yards on 21 carries, helping Richmond rack up over 200 total yards on the ground.
Defensive lineman Carl Isaac recovered two fumbles, and safety Jaelin Beugre reeled in the game-clinching interception on the Panthers’ final drive.
Up next for Richmond: the Raiders will make the trek northeast to play Hoke in Raeford.
Prediction: Richmond 45, Hoke 16
4. Lumberton (3-3)
The Pirates have emerged from the rubble that is the bottom of the SEC, winning their last two games to reach the .500 mark at the halfway point of the season.
Lumberton defeated Triton 38-14 at home in its most recent contest and led 24-0 after three quarters. The week before, Lumberton beat Overhills 35-20 to snap a two-game losing streak.
The Pirates were connecting on the deep ball all night as freshman quarterback Braylan Grice completed 6 of 9 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown. Lumberton also found success on the ground — running back Troy Mitchell totaled 142 yards and a score on 17 carries.
5. Purnell Swett (1-5)
The Rams put together one of their better performances of the season in their 30-20 home loss to New Hanover.
After losing their previous four games by double-digits, Purnell Swett showed resiliency in the defeat to the Wildcats. The Rams cut a 17-0 deficit down to four with nine minutes remaining in the four quarter, but a personal foul penalty by Purnell Swett on a 3rd-and-15 play allowed New Hanover to convert the first down and score the deciding touchdown.
Quarterback Lucas Oxendine accounted for all three of the Rams’ touchdowns, rushing for two and adding one through the air before suffering a toe injury in the fourth quarter. Backup Desmond Davis entered the game and proceeded to throw an interception, all but ending Purnell Swett’s comeback attempt.
Head coach Jon Sherman said that Oxendine could miss multiple games — it remains to be seen if he or Davis will start from under center tonight against Scotland.
6. Hoke (0-6)
The Bucks remain as the only winless team in the SEC and have lost every game by double-digits this season.
Hoke was defeated by Rocky Mount 35-14 when it last stepped on the gridiron Sept. 24. The Gryphons blew open a game that was 21-15 at halftime, racking up 316 yards and five touchdowns rushing the ball.
Hoke running back Jacob Rushing had his fair share of success on the ground with 110 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, but the Bucks were one-dimensional, only totaling 60 passing yards. Quarterback Kevin Thorpe had an interception and a fumble in the loss.