For the second time this season the eyes of the state 2-A football world will be on Pinetops as SouthWest Edgecombe secured the homefield for Friday's showdown with Reidsville with Saturday night's 28-0 defeat of Jacksonville Northside.
This will be the third time in four years the Cougars have reached the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs, having made it in the 3-A playoffs in 2006 and last year. Now in the 2-AA bracket, SouthWest faces the opponent it knew it would have to go through to win a state title ever since the season began.
Reidsville comes in with two straight state 2-AA titles and 45 straight wins, the third-longest streak in state history. The Rams score in bunches and are loaded with athletes and, as importantly, the confidence that comes with the success associated with winning four state titles since 1972.
The Cougars, on the other hand, haven't been as dominant as during midseason but played extremely well in beating a tough Northside team.
SouthWest's strength as been its decimating ground attack, often aimed at the heart of the opposing defense. The Cougars have averaged 8 yards per carry in their wishbone offense and junior quarterback Chris Ellerbe is a capable passer when they've needed him to be.
The Cougars defense has bent often but rarely broken and may be a bit underrated.
The biggest advantage SouthWest has going into Friday's game, besides the homefield, is its tough schedule. The Cougars have beaten Tarboro and Kinston, both Eastern Plains Conference rivals still alive in the third round. They also knocked off 3-A foes Hunt and Rocky Mount with ease during the season. Reidsville's schedule was far from a cakewalk and the Rams only had one game with less than 40 points scored. But only four of their regular-season foes had winning records whereas eight of the Cougars' opponents had winning marks.
In any event, Friday's game is sure to be a big-time football game and the crowd might be bigger than the estimated 5,000 spectators who were on hand to see the Cougars beat Tarboro in October.
If you're going, get there early, very early.