What was seemingly miles away at the beginning of the season is now a reality for the 2012 varsity Fighting Scots.
After a grueling season that has seen both new and established players etch their names in the record books, Scotland now stands one win away from appearing in their second-straight 4A state championship game.
But standing in their way Friday night are the New Bern Bears, the undefeated number two-ranked team in North Carolina. And with revenge likely on their minds, the 13-0 Bears are a behemoth of a team that has state championship hopes all their own.
“With a lot of their guys returning, I’m sure the players that were kept out of last year’s championship game by Scotland want to do the same to us this year,” said Scotland coach Richard Bailey. Last season, the Fighting Scots routed New Bern 61-28 in the fourth round of the 4A playoffs en route to capping off their magical 15-0 state championship run.
“As for our guys, the coaches haven’t felt the need to deliver any big speeches to this team because they already understand the importance of Friday’s game. This is what you dream about when you’re little, and what you hope to reach at the start of every season,” Bailey said.
The Fighting Scots have faced explosive offenses this season, but none of which that have matched the caliber of the scoring attack awaiting them in New Bern.
A team that runs and throws in equal abundance, the engine which drives the Bears (who have averaged 45 points per game) is highlighted by two players that have posted huge numbers all season long.
The New Bern quarterback/running back tandem of Josh Taylor and Jac Watkins have accounted for 54 touchdowns and nearly 4900 combined yards (Taylor in particular has accumulated 2371 passing yards, 1200 rushing yards and 37 combined scores to just five interceptions). And with 1300 rushing yards, a nine yards-per-carry average and 17 rushing touchdowns of his own, Watkins earned an official selection to the Shrine Bowl which takes place at the end of December. Honoring the top players in North Carolina, Scotland’s Malik Diggs and Artemis Robinson will also be making the trip to game as well.
Boasting a power running game and a dual threat QB, the Bears resemble Scotland’s third-round opponent E.E. Smith in terms of what they seek to accomplish. Last week, the Golden Bulls gave the Fighting Scots’ defense fits in a second half that saw E.E. Smith outscore Scotland 21-7 in the final two quarters. Scotland would win by a score of 35-27, but E.E. Smith running back Sulamian Mustafaa collected more than 200 rushing yards in the contest.
“Last week we didn’t play assignment defense like we’re capable of, and our defense really took it to heart,” Bailey said. “But I feel our defense has a new resolve after a video session this past Monday. We wouldn’t be here without them, but we can’t make it to the state championship game without them either. I expect the defense we’ve all come to know this season show up on Friday night.”
Defensively, New Bern is a team built on speed, utilizing a defensive back-heavy 4-2-5 scheme that is designed for its skill players to fly to the football. Bears’ linebacker Marquay Becton is the perfect example of this, having compiled 16 sacks and more than 100 tackles after moving to defense from his native wide receiver role. In fact, New Bern as a whole has prided itself on a relentless pass rush, totalling 50 sacks on the year.
“They’re not as big as some of the defenses we’ve faced like E.E. Smith, but New Bern is very athletic,” Bailey said. “It’s similar to our defense in that regard, because like them our strongest attribute is our speed. New Bern is fast, rushes to the passer very well and has many good skill guys.”
Not lost on Bailey or the Fighting Scots is the hostile road trip expected when the team steps foot in New Bern. It is the longest road trip of the year for Scotland, and because of this Bailey had a message for the fans who congregated on Main Street Nov. 18 for Laurinburg’s “Christmas on Main” event from this past weekend.
Scotland needs their support this holiday weekend.
“I told everyone that we need to bring the hometown feel to New Bern and treat this game like we treated the Richmond game,” Bailey said. “We never play away games because our fans travel better than anyone else. We want to make it feel like home.”