LAURINBURG — Tonight’s game at Lumberton won’t just be any game for the Scotland football program.
It will be the first time a Richard Bailey-led team takes the field ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press AP poll.
The Scots debuted at No. 1 this week after flirting with the top spot for much of the season. Scotland surpassed the previous No. 1, Wake Forest, which dropped to No. 2 when the 4A poll was released Tuesday. Bailey’s squad earned five fewer first-place votes than the Cougars but garnered nine more points in the poll constructed by a statewide panel of prep sports writers.
Bailey said it was a “neat honor” for his team to be slotted No. 1, but that the rankings won’t matter come playoff time.
In the meantime, Scotland is set to travel to Lumberton tonight to play a Pirates team coming off a 54-7 drubbing at the hands of Richmond Senior. Lumberton (4-5, 1-2 in the SEC) has alternated wins and losses in its last four games, and it needs to pull off the huge upset if it wants to keep its playoff hopes alive once the brackets are released next week.
The Scots have no such worries, as they enter the game 9-0 (3-0 in the SEC) and are riding a 23-game conference winning streak dating back to 2011. Scotland has blown out many opponents on this year’s schedule, but the Scots also have experience surviving close games like it did two weeks ago in a drama-filled 35-31 victory over Pinecrest.
Despite being touted as the heavy favorite heading into tonight’s tilt against Lumberton, Bailey warned his team to not become complacent as they enter the stretch run of the season. With Richmond looming next Friday, Scotland’s coaching staff has made sure to stress to the players that they can’t just show up and go through the motions if they expect to defeat the Pirates.
“We try to keep coaching them hard because everyone else is telling them how wonderful they are and I try to tell them how wonderful they are not as much as I can in film and stuff,” Bailey said. “When your team is great, that is when the coaching staff needs to be hard on them and pick on everything we can find that we can be better at.”
Scotland is coming off a 48-14 win at home against Hoke a week ago in which it scored the first 35 points of the game before inserting second- and third-team reserves. After enduring some inconsistency on offense during the early part of the season, the Scots have ripped through opposing defenses for the better part of the past month. Since defeating Jack Britt 14-6 on Sept. 11, Scotland is averaging 47.4 points per game in its past five contests.
While much of that can be attributed to Zamir White and his 33 rushing touchdowns, the Scots have also gotten stellar play out of the quarterback position. Dashaun Ferguson is coming off a 6-for-6, 177-yard performance in the win against the Bucks in which he tossed three touchdown scores, and the senior is completing 69 percent of his passes this season. As a junior last year, his completion percentage was just 54 percent.
This year, a knee injury suffered during the preseason forced him to miss the first three games. His rushing numbers are down from a year ago as the Scots coaching staff tries to protect the knee, but Ferguson is compensating for that by doing more damage through the air. He is averaging 18.2 yards per completion and has a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
“He’s really gotten into a good rhythm and we’ve given him things that he can do,” Bailey said of his senior signal caller. “We don’t try to put the square peg in the round hole, so to speak. He’s done a real good job and you expect that out of a senior.”
The goose egg in the interception column is what really catches Bailey’s eye when he grades his offenses’ performance, and for the year the Scots have only thrown one pick — backup Sergio Gibson was intercepted on a deep pass attempt in the end zone in Scotland’s win over Marlboro in September.
“One thing I like as a program right now is we have 14 touchdowns and only one interception,” Bailey said. “We have been very judicious with the ball and not turning it over, especially in the passing game.”
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.