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.