Friday is finally here and the stakes couldn’t be any higher.
After Richmond scored what many consider an upset over Pinecrest in Southern Pines last week, the Raiders will travel to Pate Stadium today to play Scotland for the Southeastern Conference championship. It is the fifth straight season the two powerhouses have met with the SEC title on the line.
As Scotland coach Richard Bailey pointed out in the wake of the Scots’ win at Lumberton last Friday, would you really want it any other way?
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 conference power rankings entering the final week of the regular season.
Scotland (10-0, 4-0)
The Scots traveled to Lumberton a week ago and sunk the Pirates in convincing fashion, 48-3.
Scotland’s first-team offense moved the ball at will against the Lumberton defense and the second unit also found the end zone in the third quarter. The Pirates only score was a result of a long kick return and even then the Scots defense held firm inside the red zone to force the field goal.
Quarterback Dashaun Ferguson continued his efficient season, completing 8 of 9 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns. The senior signal caller has thrown 12 scoring strikes with no interceptions this year. It was a light day at the office for Zamir White, who still put up stellar stats despite limited touches. He rushed 10 times for 126 yards and three touchdowns.
Scotland’s defense intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble in the win.
Up next for Scotland: a visit from its bitter rivals from Rockingham for all the marbles. Need I say more?
Prediction: Scotland 28, Richmond 21
Richmond (9-1, 4-0)
Although the Raiders knocked off Dudley during the non-conference season, Richmond secured one of the more impressive wins of any team in the SEC this season when it went into Southern Pines a week ago and handed Pinecrest a 49-28 defeat.
The game was far closer than the score indicated, however, as the Raiders nursed a seven-point lead in the final minute before blowing it open with a touchdown run and an interception return for a score in the waning seconds.
Richmond’s rushing attack, which has been inconsistent for the better part of the year, came up huge against the Patriots. Tailback Quientel Goodwin racked up 143 yards and 25 carries, and quarterback Leon Zeigler nearly surpassed the century mark with 98 yards on the ground to go along with four touchdowns.
The much-improved Raiders defense gave up some big plays to Pinecrest early but tightened up in the second half. Patriots quarterback Christian Ledbetter only completed 43 percent of his passes, and Richmond allowed Pinecrest to gain just 3.5 yards per carry.
Up next for Richmond: the trek down 74 east to battle Scotland.
Pinecrest (8-2, 2-2)
The Patriots saw their bid for an SEC title come to a disappointing end last Friday in their 49-28 home loss to Richmond. Pinecrest led 21-14 at halftime, but was outscored 35-7 after the break.
The conference’s coaches and members of the media tabbed the Patriots as the SEC’s second-best team during the preseason, and many thought this was Pinecrest’s year to breakthrough and win a conference title. A heartbreaking loss to Scotland and a second-half debacle against Richmond ended those chances, but the Patriots are still legitimate contenders for a state championship in the coming weeks.
Christian Ledbetter was 9 of 21 for 149 yards and tossed one touchdown in the loss to the Raiders, and he rushed 19 times for 64 yards and another score. Malyk Justice was second on the team in rushing, gaining 54 yards with one touchdown on 10 carries.
Up next for Pinecrest: a trip to Raeford to battle winless Hoke.
Lumberton (4-6, 1-3)
Mike Setzer’s team was shellacked 48-3 on Senior Night by the visiting Scots, but the Pirates still have an outside shot at securing a playoff bid when it travels to play county rival Purnell Swett tonight.
With a win, Lumberton would submit a 5-5 record to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. The Pirates are allowed to drop one non-conference loss. A victory would also give Lumberton its second SEC victory and the No. 4 seed in the SEC, but a loss would drop it to No. 5 behind the Rams.
Last year Lumberton, Purnell Swett and Hoke tied for fourth in the final standings, but the Pirates lost the coin toss and finished as the No. 6 seed in the SEC.
The Pirates only managed 119 yards of total offense in the loss to Scotland — Braylan Grice completed 5 of 16 passes for 50 yards with an interception. The freshman rushed for 51 yards on 12 carries and added a 50-yard punt to boot. Will Osman kicked a 36-yard field goal for Lumberton’s only points.
Up next for Lumberton: the latest edition of the Backyard Brawl when the Pirates clash with Purnell Swett.
Prediction: Lumberton 31, Purnell Swett 21
Purnell Swett (2-8, 1-3)
The Rams ended a six-game losing streak when they eked out a 13-8 home victory against Hoke last week to pick up their first win since early September.
Purnell Swett trailed in the fourth quarter, but mounted an 11-play touchdown drive to take the lead. Damion Holloway was the hero for the Rams — the junior running back rushed for 68 yards and scored two touchdowns, including the game-winner, and converted a fourth-and-1 in the closing seconds to help the hosts ice the victory.
While the Rams are out of contention for a playoff spot, they can spoil Lumberton’s bid for a berth in the postseason when they welcome the Pirates to Pembroke today. Purnell Swett nearly upset Lumberton in the last year’s Backyard Brawl, and Jon Sherman and his players would love nothing more than to foil the Pirates’ playoff plans.
Hoke (0-10, 0-4)
Tom Paris’ program is currently riding a 13-game losing skid dating back to last season despite having their best chance to end that dubious mark when they hosted Purnell Swett a week ago.
The Bucks took an 8-7 lead into the fourth quarter but couldn’t hold on down the stretch, losing 13-8 in Pembroke. It was the first game Hoke has played this year that has been decided by single-digits.
Quinn Maynor surpassed the 100-yard plateau in the defeat, gaining 117 on 17 carries. The junior averaged 6.9 yards per carry, but the rest of his teammates combined to rush for 27 yards on 19 carries — a poultry 1.4 yards-per-carry average.
Hoke’s lone touchdown came through the air in the third quarter. Kevin Thorpe threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Chase Jackson.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.