Monday, November 18, 2013

Not at the game? Then don't complain

During Friday night football games, in addition to keeping stats and sometimes shooting photographs, our reporters have now been asked to tweet live scoring updates. Usually the person on the desk, i.e., the one who remains in the office, coordinates these tweets, along with ones from other sources, and posts them to The Wilson Times Twitter and Facebook accounts.

I noticed that several people following the Hunt-Fayetteville Terry Sanford game last Friday night complained the score wasn't being posted quickly enough. Certainly, we will try to do a better job in getting these scoring updates to our audience, whom we hope will then read the entire game story in the Times or on wilsontimes.com the following day.

But here's a piece of advice for the fans who were a little impatient: Go to the game. There were less than 800 people at Hunt's home playoff game Friday and Beddingfield had less than 300 there. Did I miss something or did Wilson suddenly start having a lot of things to do on Friday night? You know, if you care enough to want constant scoring updates, then why don't you care enough to go to the game? I think it's a sad state affairs when Wilson has two home football playoff games and only a thousand people show up.

Most of the folks at the Beddingfield game where I was seemed to be parents. If the students aren't interested in watching their team play, then folks from the community probably aren't going to be either.

I hear over and over and over that there's nothing to do in Wilson. That was even more true when I was in high school some 30 years ago but the football stadium were regularly packed Friday nights, especially for playoff games. Maybe it's because today the playoffs have become so bloated in this everyone-gets-a-trophy era that they don't mean as much.

I understand if people have other plans but it seems a lot of people made other plans Friday night. The Warriors are back home this Friday against West Brunswick in the second round and, win or lose, it could be Hunt's final home game of the year. We'll be doing our best to provide scoring updates on that game, as well as Fike-Fayetteville Byrd, Beddingfield-Northeastern and Southern Nash-Eastern Wayne, but if you really want to know what's happening when it happens, here's my advice.  Buy a ticket, support the team with your presence and your financial contribution and enjoy one of the best forms of entertainment Wilson has to offer by watching a high school football game.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

EPC football could have much drama ... or not

As conference skirmishes in the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference football season begin Friday, the only surprise thus far has to be Farmville Central with a 5-0 mark. The Jaguars, with just four wins the past three seasons, were picked to finish fifth by EPC coaches in their preseason poll. And Farmville Central  might still just do that.

As for the other five EPC teams, they are about where the consensus held they should be after seven weeks. Beddingfield is 3-3 because, despite playing extremely well at times, has shot itself in the foot at other times. SouthWest Edgecombe, also 3-3, is in the same boat. Both the Bruins and Cougars have lost to some pretty good teams. The teams that have beaten Beddingfield (Southern Nash, Fike, Southern Pines Pinecrest) are a combined 18-0 and the Bruins have lost those three games by a combined 28 points.

SouthWest has lost to Southern Nash, Rocky Mount and Tarboro, which are a combined 15-3, by a total of 29 points.

It's interesting to note that Beddingfield and SouthWest tied for third in the preseason coaches poll behind favorite North Pitt and Washington. The Panthers (5-1) and Pam Pack (4-2) have shown themselves to be the top two teams in the EPC. SouthWest will have first crack at changing that dynamic Friday when the Cougars visit North Pitt.

For Beddingfield, it's about continuing the momentum from its 15-13 win at home against Hunt, the Bruins' first victory over the Warriors since a 14-13 verdict at Beddingfield in 2009. It was the second straight win for Beddingfield, which opens at winless North Johnston on Friday.

The Bruins made the fewest errors and got the win over Hunt. That's what they need to keep doing, as well as stay healthy, because Beddingfield has the most dangerous offensive weapons in the EPC with junior QB Kavajae Ellis, receivers Javius Nixon and Ajay Williams and running backs Kelvin King and Chavius Collins. King and Collins, both starting defenders, were injured and didn't finish the game against Hunt.

Beddingfield can give any team it faces fits but the Bruins also can give their head coach, Tyrone Johnson, fits. If they don't suffer any crushing injuries (and it's not known when or if King or Collins will return), they can continue to be a handful for their opponents.

SouthWest has also dealt with injuries, namely to junior halfback Devontrell Hyman, who has accumulated 511 yards on just 55 carries (9.3 average). Hyman returned to rush for 60 yards in the Cougars' 49-7 pasting of host East Carteret on Friday and if he resumes his early season form, SouthWest's offense will have its feature back. With junior Barry Smith and sophomore Marcus Williams complementing Hyman's bruising, straight-ahead style, the Cougars can keep doing what they did Friday when they piled up 450 yards on 44 rushes. SWE threw just one pass, an incompletion, because it didn't need to pass.

First-year head coach Jonathan Cobb, who has introduced some wrinkles to the wishbone attack favored by his predecessor, his father, Raymond Cobb, reverted to straight wishbone Friday. I realize East Carteret probably was ill-equipped to handle that ground-based onslaught but it might be worth taking a look at keeping the offense as streamlined as possible. The EPC is a power-rushing conference, even with teams like Beddingfield, Washington and North Johnston favoring the pass. If you have the ability to pound out yards, do it, SouthWest.

North Johnston is a pretty good 0-6 team, for whatever that's worth, but that plaudit won't make head coach Scott Meserve sleep better. The Panthers probably aren't going to win a game this season because they don't stack up well against their EPC foes in their first year in the conference. But North Johnston has some playmakers in senior wideout Trey Daniels and senior QB Montie Walker, along with RB Quamel Kenion. The Panthers also have size on their lines and, if they play better on special teams, limit their turnovers (an area-worst minus-10 in ratio) and curtail debilitating penalties, maybe they'll surprise someone.

I'm going out on a limb and sticking with the coaches in their preseason poll. North Pitt should win and Washington will finish second. The most interesting game of the season is probably the week 12 battle between Beddingfield and SouthWest in Pinetops that should decide third place. Of course, if the Bruins or Cougars can surprise either North Pitt or Washington, they could get at least a share of the title.

And of course, nobody better sleep on Farmville Central.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Big East as hard to call now as in preseason

It's hard to believe that we are seven weeks into the high school football season, especially with the temperature hovering near 90 degrees in the first week in October, but now we have just five very important weeks to go.

As the three Wilson County teams prepare for their conference openers Friday — Fike and Hunt in the 3-A Big East and Beddingfield in the 2-A Eastern Plains — it's time to look back and ahead.

Starting with the Big East, which has the only two area teams with perfect records in Fike and Southern Nash. And wouldn't you know, the Golden Demons and Firebirds are on a collision course this week in Fike's Buddy Bedgood Stadium on Tyson Jennette Field. A perfect way to start the conference run!

First off, Fike is the big "surprise" of the year with a 6-0 mark after winning just two games last year and six the last two years combined. But the Demons are no mirage as their potent offense is averaging nearly 400 yards per game. Most of that production has come from speedy, elusive junior Anthony Evans (905 yards, 9 TDs) and bruising, powerful sophomore A.J. Hines (512 yards, 10 TDs). Of course, Fike has had solid blocking and sophomore QB D.J. Daniels (37 for 55, 570 yards, 8 TDs, 1 INT) has been steady.

Defensively, the Demons done the job as well, posting two shutouts. But Fike is allowing 159 yards per game through the air, compared to just 100 on the ground. That's one indicator that pass defense is where Fike has struggled — at times. Witness the numbers put up by spread foes Kinston, Beddingfield and South Johnston, albeit all during late comeback attempts. That also shows that Fike has been most vulnerable defensively through the air.

The good news for the Demons is that none of their Big East opponents rely mostly on the pass. Certainly not the Firebirds, who have dealt with what should be crippling injuries to their offensive backfield this season.

Southern Nash has lost the services of five halfbacks who could be the featured ball carriers for many offenses. Yet, the Firebirds continue to motor along, doing just enough each week to get the win. And that comes with a minus-7 turnover ratio that would keep most teams below .500.

However, bad habits and bad luck will catch up with a team in time and Southern Nash will have to get healthy in the backfield. The good news from Friday's 24-23 win at Tarboro, probably its most impressive victory this season, is that junior Zimonia Knight played for the first time all season. Knight, who suffered a calf injury in the preseason jamboree, had just 2 yards on two carries and is not 100 percent but at this point, Firebirds head coach Brian Foster will take what he can get. Grant Jones (ACL) and promising sophomore Jaquay Mitchell (knee) are done for the season while junior Clinton Whitaker and senior Taylor Finch are battling injuries.

It's a good thing Southern Nash has Richard Hall, one of the top candidates for Big East player of the year, to pick up the slack. Hall, primarily a slotback on offense and the top defensive back, has 450 yards in spot duty at halfback.

Hunt, the Big East coaches' preseason pick to win its fifth conference title, has been the hardest team to get a bead on. The Warriors, under first-year head coach Stevie Hinnant, have at times dazzled and other times sputtered. There have been underlying reasons for the latter, such as injuries and a tough schedule, but the simple fact is that the Warriors haven't been 3-3 since 2009. But Hunt ended up 9-4 and went 5-0 in the Big East, winning the first of four straight conference championships.

So, what will the Warriors do this time? That answer might come in the form of who will lead them on offense. Sophomore Jacob Williamson started at quarterback for the first six games but in the Warriors' 15-13 loss at Beddingfield in their last game,  he was replaced by junior Justin Jefferson, who had never played the position in two-plus varsity seasons. Jefferson, a starting cornerback and receiver, was somewhat effective in moving the offense so he might be part of the plan going forward.

But what Hunt does have, like Fike with Evans and Hines, is a pair of game-breakers in senior Dexter Wright (655 yards) and sophomore Darius Barnes (573 yards). Wright is also the leader of the Hunt defense, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound free safety with sub-4.4 speed who has verbally committed to N.C. State.

Right now, Hunt needs to find some consistency on offense, work towards getting Barnes and Wright the ball as much as possible and pull together and realize the season is far from over. The frustration of three losses in six games is evident for players who suffered just two losses over the past two seasons, both coming to eventual state 3-AA champion Northern Guilford in the Eastern championship game.

The Warriors will begin Big East play in the most anticipated matchup perhaps in program history Friday night when they venture to Northern Nash's "Death Valley." The Knights have won three straight after an 0-3 start but that's not why this game is so big. It's the first time Randy Raper will be standing on the other side of the field for Hunt. Raper, of course, left Hunt after 22 seasons and 203 wins last December for a new challenge at Northern. He'll have it Friday night.

With Rocky Mount looming as a potential Big East champion and Nash Central, despite being winless, possessing the capability of beating anyone on any given night, what do I think will happen in the Big East? I think nobody will go unbeaten and there's a good chance five teams will make the playoffs. How's that?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Neither Warriors nor others overwhelming at Cleveland scrimmage

High school football scrimmages can be useful in evaluating teams and players but you have to take them with a grain of salt. It's difficult to know how players will react in live game situations and to momentum, either positive or negative.

That having been said, I came away from Friday morning's three-team scrimmage at Cleveland with Hunt and Fayetteville Terry Sanford without a sense of being overwhelmed by anyone. Well, I was slightly impressed with the size of several of the Terry Sanford players. As far as Hunt and Cleveland, neither the Warriors nor the Rams resembled the squads that took to the field for the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-AA playoffs last November. Granted, I was there mainly to take photos and didn't keep any stats or notes other than the mental ones I was making, but here are my observations:

• Hunt needs to work on snapping and handing off the ball. Numerous fumbles on exchanges were easily the biggest problem the Warriors had. But those usually get fixed in short order.
• There are some young ball carriers for Hunt that could be big-time players by November. However, I don't think any of them will make Warriors fans forget Josh Joyner any time soon. Senior Dexter Wright showed some runner's instincts as well. At 6-foot-3, Dexter reminds me of Kelvin Bryant as he slashes his way through the secondary.
• Hunt sophomore QB Jacob Williamson proved tough to sack but he always showed a tendency to run into trouble rather than away from it at times. Still, it will be fun watching him develop.
• While Wright's presence is a constant in the Hunt secondary, the Warriors will need some other defenders to step up and assert themselves, especially on the line. I liked the hustle of Aaron Smith and certainly Ervin Speight is going to be around the ball and Malik Williams is a big-time corner but Hunt's brand is built on D and those kids are going to have to live up to that. The unit played well overall but gave up too many big plays and hung its head at times.
• While I wasn't blown away by Hunt (and I wasn't expecting to be at a 9 a.m. scrimmage), I also thought Cleveland was a ways from where the Rams were last year. Isaac Martin (I'm guessing that No. 3 at QB) is still a big threat but the Rams struggled with execution, not surprising in that spread offense. I guess when it's working well, it's hard to stop but in mid-August, the power running game is going to be more impressive.
• Yes, those Terry Sanford kids were big but that's not surprising given the Bulldogs are moving down from the 4-A Mid-South Conference to the 3-A Cape Fear Valley Conference and — hello! — it's Fayetteville. They're always big down there.
• Having seen a glimpse of Hunt, I think the Warriors can be very good again but probably not where they were the past three years. If they can beat Southern Nash, they can be Big East champions again. Wilmington New Hanover in week 3 will be a tough opponent and a long stretch of road games will be hard on the players. If I had to guess, I'll say Hunt will go 9-2.
• I really like morning football. I just wish they had coffee for sale at Cleveland.

Friday, July 12, 2013

County varsity football schedules unveiled

Below are the 2013 varsity football schedules for Beddingfield, Fike and Hunt. The county trio will have significant road trips but none more so than Hunt, which on weeks 3 and 4 will total more than 400 miles on trips to Elizabeth City Northeastern and Currituck County. That will be part of a stretch of five consecutive away games for the (road) Warriors. In fact, with an open date Oct. 4, Warrior Stadium will be dark for six straight Fridays.

The good news for Hunt is that in 2014, the schedule will flip-flop and the Warriors will be at home for five games in a row.

Of course, the most anticipated game of the year for Hunt will be Oct. 11 at Northern Nash where former Warriors head coach Randy Raper is now in charge of the Knights.

Fike has away non-conference outings at Bunn, Roanoke Rapids, Smithfield-Selma and South Johnston (Four Oaks) while Beddingfield will venture to Washington, new to the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference, on Oct. 25.

Aug. 23    Greene Central
Aug. 29    @ Southern Nash
Sept. 6      Southern Pines Pinecrest
Sept. 13    @ Fike
Sept. 20    @ Nash Central
Sept. 27    Hunt
Oct. 4        OPEN
Oct. 11     @ North Johnston*
Oct. 18     North Pitt*
Oct. 25     @ Washington*
Nov. 1      Farmville Central*
Nov. 6      @ SouthWest Edgecombe*

* 2-A Eastern Plains Conference game

Aug. 23   @ Bunn
Aug. 29   @ Roanoke Rapids
Sept. 6     Kinston
Sept. 13   Beddingfield
Sept. 20   @ Smithfield-Selma
Sept. 27   @ South Johnston
Oct. 4      OPEN
Oct. 11    Southern Nash*
Oct. 18    @ Nash Central*
Oct. 25    Rocky Mount*
Nov. 1     @ Northern Nash*
Nov. 8     Hunt*

* 3-A Big East Conference game

Aug. 23   South Central
Aug. 29   Hertford County
Sept. 6     Wilmington New Hanover
Sept. 13   @ Elizabeth City Northeastern
Sept. 20   @ Currituck County
Sept. 27   @ Beddingfield
Oct. 4       OPEN
Oct. 11     @ Northern Nash*
Oct. 18     @ Rocky Mount*
Oct. 25     Southern Nash*
Nov. 1      Nash Central*
Nov. 8      @ Fike*

* 3-A Big East Conference game