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Ready for some football ... and some uncertainties


By Earl Vaughan Jr.

As the N.C. High School Athletic Association state football playoffs open this weekend, most of the seven head football coaches from Cumberland County who have teams playing share the view of Terry Sanford’s Bruce McClelland.
“We coach and try to keep things as normal as possible, but there is no normal,’’ he said. He was referring to the challenges all coaches have faced in keeping their teams healthy and free of COVID-19.
COVID played havoc with the regular-season schedule, forcing many teams to shut down for periods of time and making them cram games into their schedule so that, at times, they were on the field with only three days of rest.
“We had 10 or 11 days off before the Pine Forest game,’’ McClelland said. “We played on a Tuesday and Friday.’’
Adding to the confusion, COVID protocols shut all the teams out of weight training for more than a year. “We’ve had to adjust on the fly,’’ McClelland said. “Everybody had to deal with something.’’
This week, many of them will be dealing with unfamiliar opponents in the first round. Others, like Terry Sanford and Cape Fear, face long road trips.
Here’s a capsule look at each of the seven games on the schedule:

Henderson Vance (7-2) at Westover (8-1)

Vance is an athletic team without overwhelming size but with impressive speed. Wolverine head coach Ernest King said Vance is disciplined offensively and defensively.
Quarterback Nazir Garrett has thrown for 1,238 yards and 12 scores.
Westover will rely heavily on the play of quarterback Joshua Jones, running back Kaivaughn Spence and receiver Jamari Stallion.
“We’ve got to play well defensively,’’ King said. “We have to take away the big plays in the passing game. If we play good team football we’ll come out with a win.’’

Seventy-First coach Duran McLaurin

West Brunswick (3-6) at Seventy-First (10-0)
Despite its losing record, Duran McLaurin has a lot of respect for West Brunswick. “They beat Wilmington Laney when they were 5-0,’’ McLaurin said.
McLaurin’s top concern is West Brunswick receiver J.J. Cobb. “He’s one of the fastest kids we’ll play against,’’ he said.
Cobb has 66 catches for 847 yards and eight touchdowns. Kevon Daniels is the top rusher with 1,060 yards and 15 touchdowns.
McLaurin said Seventy-First linebackers De’montrious Ratliff and Isaac Lewis need to have big games for the Falcons. “They like to run the jet sweep, then run the quarterback,’’ McLaurin said of West Brunswick. The Falcon linebackers need to stay home. “If we’re not out of position, we’ll be able to make plays and slow them down,’’ McLaurin said.

Terry Sanford (6-3) at Currituck (5-5)
Most people enjoy a trip to the Outer Banks, but it’s going to be a challenge for McClelland and his Bulldogs as they face a four-hour drive for their first-round playoff game.
McClelland said he’s using a previous playoff trip to Havelock to plan for this longer drive. “We’re going to keep on schedule and try to call it a business trip,’’ he said.
Currituck quarterback Makegan Piorkowski is listed at 6-feet-5 and 200 pounds. McClelland said he’s mobile. He’s thrown for 1,069 yards and 15 scores.
Ryan Fisher has rushed for 1,080 yards and 12 scores.
“You don’t get a good feel for what they do,’’ McClelland said of Currituck’s balance.
He’s hopeful Terry Sanford has more depth in the offensive and defensive lines. “We feel like we have to be physical and control the line of scrimmage,’’ he said.

Cape Fear (6-3) at West Carteret (7-2)
Cape Fear faces a long trip as well, a three-hour journey to West Carteret.
Thomas said this was the first conference title for West Carteret in many years. They are led by quarterback Jamarion Montford, who has thrown for 1,077 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“He’s a player that makes things go,’’ Thomas said. “They are an air raid type team with the threat of a running quarterback.’’
Thomas said Montford is surrounded by complementary athletes. A lot of its players play both ways.
“Our offensive line needs to step up, play well and protect,’’ Thomas said.
Thomas is expecting West Carteret to double cover the Colts’ R.J. McDonald, wholeads the Cape Fear receivers with 33 catches for 581 yards and six scores.
“I think some of our other receivers are going to have to step up and play those spots,’’ Thomas said. “With their quarterback being so mobile, our front seven is going to have to do a good job of containing and putting pressure on their front.’’


Jack Britt (4-5) at Richmond Senior (9-1)

Unlike some teams in the first round, Jack Britt is meeting a familiar opponent. The Buccaneers will travel to face former Sandhills Conference rival RIchmond, a team Britt has frequently faced even before they were in the same league.
Britt coach Brian Randolph said he has to prepare his team for the off-the-field aspect of RIchmond, its raucous fans and all the sideline bells and whistles in Rockingham that can distract a visiting team.
On the field, there’s plenty to worry about. Richmond has lots of size, with players averaging around 6-3, 280 on the offensive line and defensive fronts.
Randolph said it will be important for Britt to run the ball offensively, with backs Jamel Vereen and Sincere Baines leading the way. Vereen has 713 yards rushing, Baines 535.
Randolph hopes to keep the Britt offense on the field, adding if the Buccaneers can’t avoid three plays and a punt often, things could get ugly quickly.
“We want to keep the score low and give ourselves a chance,’’ he said.

Pine Forest coach Bill Sochovka

Durham Jordan (4-4) at Pine Forest (9-1)

The Trojans face a Jordan team that Pine Forest head coach Bill Sochovka describes as athletic and strong, averaging about 30 points per game on offense.
“They are kind of an enigma,’’ Sochovka said, adding they aren’t easy to decipher after only having a couple of scouting videos to review.
Another problem for Sochovka is getting his team excited to play a team they have little knowledge of and no history playing.
So he’s been reminding them that Jordan is facing the same challenge Pine Forest does, win this week or go home.
“We won’t know anything until that first series,’’ Sochovka said. “What we can’t do is what we did against Overhills last Friday night. We had four turnovers on offense.’’
He also said the Trojan defense bent a little too much against Overhills. “My biggest concern is special teams, the basics of protecting the ball,’’ Sochovka said.

Raleigh Sanderson (5-3) at South View (8-2)

It’s only been five years since South View tangled with Sanderson in the state playoffs, a 34-0 loss for the Tigers in the opening round.
This time around, Tiger coach Rodney Brewington said his team will face a Sanderson squad that is sound, physical and doesn’t beat itself.
“Our guys are in for a four-quarter battle,’’ he said.
One thing that will make that battle more difficult is Tiger quarterback Cedavion Wimbley is moving to wide receiver because of continued problems with an ailing ankle.
Sophomore Jabori Lee, who has been subbing for Wimbley in recent games, will be the starter at quarterback.
“Everybody has to step up and do their part,’’ Brewington said.
He’s especially hopeful for improved play from his running backs. “At this point in the season we should be finding our groove,’’ he said. “If we cement the run game I think we’ll be fine.’’
Another player Brewington will be counting on heavily is wide receiver Jamareese Ray. He has 36 catches for 755 yards and eight touchdowns.
“He has to put us on his back with the way he’s been making those big catches,’’ Brewington said.