The North Carolina high school football playoffs are here, and that means the Southeastern Conference regular season has come to a close.
This wraps up the SEC Power Rankings as three teams in the conference enter their respective offseasons. After Pinecrest was stripped of eight wins a week ago due to rules violations, the school forfeited its right to compete in this year’s postseason. The Patriots will join Purnell Swett and Hoke on the sidelines.
The top two seeds in the conference — Scotland and Richmond — engaged in another classic clash a week ago with the SEC title on the line. The Scots controlled the game for three quarters, then held off a furious late-game rally from the Raiders to win their fifth straight conference crown.
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 final SEC power rankings.
1. Scotland (11-0, 5-0)
Through 35 minutes, the Scots appeared well on their way to another blowout win over their arch-rival from Rockingham.
Then the final 13 minutes happened.
Down 28-0, Richmond scored 21 unanswered points in the third and fourth quarters to pull within one score. The Raiders found themselves inside the 20-yard line with less than 40 seconds remaining, but Scotland linebacker Jonathan Smith turned back the Richmond comeback attempt when he intercepted a Leon Zeigler pass just short of the goal line.
The pick sealed Scotland’s fifth win in as many years against Richmond — the first time in school history that feat has been accomplished.
Quarterback Dashaun Ferguson played an integral part in the win, rushing for 100 yards and scoring two total touchdowns. Richmond held running back Zamir White under 100 yards, but the sophomore found the end zone once. It was only the second time this season White has been held to less than 100 yards on the ground.
Up next Scotland: A home game against Davie in the opening round of the 4A playoffs. The War Eagles (5-6) defeated Parkland 39-19 a week ago.
Prediction: Scotland 41, Davie 17
2. Richmond (9-2, 4-1)
The Raiders were an interception in the red zone away from pulling off an improbable comeback against Scotland. It’s a game that will be talked about in Scotland and Richmond counties for years, but in the end, the Raiders ran out of magic in the closing seconds.
Leon Zeigler overcame a dreadful first half where he completed as many passes to Scotland players as he did to Richmond (one) to run for a touchdown and throw another during the Raiders’ 21-0 run in the third and fourth quarters.
Running back Quientel Goodwin was the spark plug that got Richmond going after the Scots went up 28-0 in the final minute of the third period. He returned a kickoff 80 yards for the Raiders’ first touchdown, then hauled in a deflected pass for a score to close the gap to 28-21.
The Raiders’ defense, which has performed well for most of the year, had its ups and downs against the Scots but they did a good job of preventing big plays while holding Zamir White in check.
Up next for Richmond: its opening-round 4AA playoff game against Holly Springs (7-4). The Golden Hawks beat Cary 27-10 last week.
Prediction: Richmond 34, Holly Springs 10
3. Pinecrest (1-10, 1-4)
Despite losing two crucial conference games to Scotland and Richmond, the Patriots were set to enter the playoffs as a legitimate contender for a state championship.
But last week, it was discovered that Pinecrest violated the eight-quarter rule, which allows players under certain conditions to play in junior varsity and varsity games the same week. Required paperwork was not filed properly, and while no students were at fault and no injuries occurred as a result of the mistake, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association stripped the Patriots of their eight wins heading into its game against Hoke.
So in what was the final contest of their Pinecrest careers for players like Christian Ledbetter and Sean Pollard, the Patriots overcame a slow start to down the Bucks 35-20.
Ledbetter completed 14 of 20 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown while rushing for 52 yards and four more scores. Running back Malyk Justice also ran for 52 yards on 12 carries.
Folks in Southern Pines will reminisce about the Patriots’ lost season for quite some time — many felt before the year this team could win an SEC championship. Instead of competing for a state title, Pinecrest is forced to watch from afar as fellow SEC schools Scotland, Richmond and Lumberton attempt to bring home hardware.
4. Lumberton (6-5, 3-2)
Mike Setzer’s team came through in a big way last Friday, defeating Purnell Swett 49-7 in the latest edition of the “Backyard Brawl” to clinch a spot in the state playoffs.
It was a winner-take-all contest for both teams to secure the No. 3 seed in the SEC and the automatic bid that comes with it.
Quarterback Braylan Grice completed 8 of 13 passes for 138 yards and one touchdown, but running Troy Mitchell stole the show, racking up 229 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries. Lumberton rushed for 328 yards as a team and averaged 7.6 yards per carry.
Defensive lineman Colby Bullard recorded two sacks on defense, and Aubrey Savannah added one. The Pirates also forced to Purnell Swett turnovers. Josh Smith had an interception, and Thomas Evans recovered a fumble.
Up next for Lumberton: A trip to Greensboro to battle Page in the first round of the 4AA playoffs. Page (9-2) downed Southern Alamance 43-0 last Friday.
Prediction: Page 45, Lumberton 17
5. Purnell Swett (3-8, 2-3)
The Rams missed out on an opportunity to sneak into the playoffs in the 49-7 home defeat to rival Lumberton. Jon Sherman’s program scored the first points of the game but allowed seven unanswered touchdowns as the Pirates put away their county rivals.
Starting quarterback Lucas Oxendine missed the second half due to a shoulder injury, and Purnell Swett managed just 132 yards of total offense against a Lumberton team that came into the contest allowing 36 points per game. The Rams were never able to regain their mojo on offense after Cameron Oxendine ran for a 10-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
Sherman said after the loss that while he was proud of his seniors for competing until the final whistle, it was a disappointing end to a game that began with renewed optimism given the circumstances in Southern Pines.
6. Hoke (0-11, 0-5)
The Bucks end the year as the only winless team in the conference after the two-touchdown defeat against Pinecrest.
Tom Paris’ squad will enter the 2016 season on a 14-game losing skid dating back to last year. Hoke’s last win came on Oct. 17, 2014 when it defeated Lumberton 48-42.
The good news for the Bucks is that they welcomed back running back Jacob Rushing after the senior missed the previous three games due to injury. In his final game, Rushing put up big numbers as he usually does, running for 126 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries.
Nykeem Shaw returned a kickoff for a score in the loss to the Patriots, and Kevin Thorpe completed 2 of 3 passes for 72 yards and a touchdown.
Hoke had one of its better defensive performances, recording five sacks while holding Pinecrest to 3.5 yards per carry.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.