Seventy-First linebacker Zayvion Hill still has powerful memories of summer workouts with his Falcon teammates, particularly a practice staple that high school football coaches call the county fair.
But this county fair has nothing to do with rides, popcorn and cotton candy. It’s a demanding test of stamina and agility where the players move through various workout stations doing drills designed to develop various aspects of their abilities.
“They keep our heads straight and focused,’’ Hill said, adding that the drills are still paying dividends for the Falcon defense as Seventy-First heads into the fourth round of the NCHSAA 3A football playoffs on Friday to face Southern Alamance at Loyd E. Auman Athletic Field. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.
The 13-0 Falcons are the No. 2 seed in the Eastern 3A bracket while Southern Alamance is No. 3 with a 12-1 record, having knocked off Terry Sanford last week.
Southern will face a stingy Falcon defense that has recorded six shutouts, including last week’s 48-0 home win against Wilson Fike.
For the year, 10 of the Falcons’ 13 opponents have scored a touchdown or less. Second-round playoff opponent Burlington Williams is the only team this season that’s scored 20 points on the Falcons.
“When our defense gets locked in, they are pretty good,’’ Falcon head coach Duran McLaurin said.
He praised seniors like Hill, Melik Thomas and Amire Drummond for being what he calls glue guys who keep the unit together. “You just have a nice mix of athletes, leadership and toughness,’’ he said.
For Hill, it’s all about getting the job done, like last week against Fike, focusing on the outside running game of the Demons. “We had to maintain our outside edge, turn everything inside,’’ he said. “Listening to our coaches, adjusting to the team, adjusting the defense.’’
He admits the job has been made easier by the home-field advantage the Falcons have enjoyed during this year’s playoffs by virtue of being a No. 2 seed.
“It builds intensity and keeps us hyped,’’ he said.
There is a slight danger of looking ahead this week as the Eastern bracket is down to the final four. Northern Nash, the team that knocked the Falcons out of the postseason last year, is still alive on the other side traveling to face Eastern No. 1 Havelock tonight.
Hill doesn’t think that will be an issue. “Don’t get too cocky,’’ he said. “Stay humble. Maintain everything we’ve got going right now.’’
McLaurin doesn’t think that’s likely either with an opponent of Southern Alamance’s caliber. They run a variation of the wing T, a tricky offense to defend because of its use of misdirection and the fact it’s not often seen in these parts.
McLaurin said the Southern Alamance attack forces teams to play assignment football, which can cause opponents to be too aggressive and run themselves out of position on defense.
To complicate things, Southern’s version of the wing T isn’t all finesse. The Patriots possess beef in the line and can be physical when they need to.
“They use their quickness and they do play with a level of physicality,’’ McLaurin said. “It’s the reason why they won 12 games this season.’’
The biggest edge Seventy-First may have is a stable lineup. McLaurin said he’s still basically putting the same team on the field that he has all season.
“A lot of teams can't say they started out and finished with the same group of kids,’’ he said. “They have learned their responsibilities. It’s all about muscle memory, execution, understanding your responsibility and role in your offense and defense.
“Just doing your job.’’
Follow Earl Vaughan Jr. on X, formerly known as Twitter: @EarlVaughanJr.