November seems far away with temperatures topping 90 degrees daily.
Implications to that month, however, are likely from Friday night’s Three Rivers Conference opener between host East Bladen and Whiteville. The unbeaten Wolfpack (2-0) was forecast to share the league title with South Columbus, with the Eagles (1-1) picked third.
The two co-favorites play the final Friday of the season. East Bladen treks to Tabor City next week.
Elsewhere in the county Friday, West Bladen (0-2) travels a second straight week, opening Three Rivers play at Fairmont.
“Just the hand that we’re dealt,” East Bladen head coach Robby Priest said of the front-loaded schedule. “You’ve got to prepare for it. Last year, I thought we did a good in handling it. But we had 18 seniors you could rely on and trust. We’ll see how this group handles it. We’ve got to play who’s on the schedule; can’t swap it out.”
He added, “You just want to go 1-0 this week.”
The Eagles and Wolfpack became league foes last year, but the series has been an annual highlight of programs with strong traditions. East Bladen has won four straight between the two, each of the last pair coming in Whiteville.
“The majority of everybody is back from last year,” Priest said of the Wolfpack. “They have athletes in the right places, big linemen, so we’ve got our hands full.”
And Whiteville has Ty Moss, last year’s league offensive player of the year.
“They can spread you out,” Priest said. “They’ve got a dual threat at quarterback. We’re going to have our hands full to corral him, keep a spy on him as far as defense goes.”
East Bladen seniors Jordan Payton and Tyvon Townsend join juniors Jordan Stanley and Zac Hester up front defensively, with senior Dayveon Washington and junior Kasey Price in the middle linebacker spots. Senior Eric Chancy and junior Lawson Hester, Zac’s twin, are the outside linebackers. Seniors Shy Pone and Josh McKoy have the corners and sophomore Rasean McKoy is the safety.
Priest said his staff is familiar with first-year Whiteville head coach J.P. Price, who coached alongside his father when Joey Price led Wallace-Rose Hill earlier this decade. Price and his staff, which includes his father, had last week off and were able to see the Eagles improve their ground game in a victory at North Brunswick.
Lawson Hester ran for 123 yards, including a 76-yard scoring run with four minutes left in the third quarter to snap a tie.
“At the time, I didn’t like the situations we put ourselves in,” Priest said in review. “But looking back, we put ourselves in tight spots and were able to overcome it. That was a good thing to build on for this week. This group, they have to go through some battles and some ups and downs to get that tough skin. That’s what they’re missing.”
Across the way in Dublin, head coach Kris Williams is similarly encouraged after two weeks. They’ll meet a Tornadoes team also seeking its first win.
“They’re real athletic, got some fast guys, some slippery guys that can move around offensively,” Williams said. “They’ve still got that same speed defense. They’re going to come pretty quick too on defense. That quarterback, if he gets time to run around back there, he’s going to find somebody open.”
Not only is West Bladen trying to snap a two-game skid for this season, it has lost five straight dating back to a year ago. Forty-point games by opponents litter that skid.
“We’re getting better,” Williams said. “We’re young but we’re starting to grow up a little bit. It’s a process. We haven’t taken any steps back.”
And if the team is successful against Fairmont, Williams said it will involve the underclassmen-laden defense of freshman Ricky Brisson and sophomores Shy’ron Adams and Malaci Oxendine in the secondary, junior Tra’shawn Ballard and sophomore Kendall Johnson at linebacker, senior playmaker Kerron Washington at strong safety/outside linebacker, and the line of junior Chris Bailey, senior Brandon Strange, sophomore Kai Belle and freshman Zaidarius McKenzie.
“No. 1, we’ve got be better tacklers,” Williams said. “Last week, we weren’t very good tackling. Offensively, we’re going to put it in Tyre’s hands, and Kerron’s hands, and Shy’s hands and go from there.”
Junior quarterback Tyre Boykin has had a hand in each of the Knights’ seven touchdowns. He’s 21-for-35 for 344 yards passing, and has rushed 17 times for 88 yards. He threw two TD passes in the opener, then added two scoring runs and three TD passes at Midway.
Six players — senior Nelson Drake, junior Cammeron Collins, junior A.J. Brown, Ballard and Johnson — showing various amount of injury were seated on the bench in the fourth quarter at Spivey’s Corner. Williams said two remain questionable for Fairmont.
“We treat them all as important, it’s not like we weren’t going all out on the other two,” Williams said of the league opener. “It gives you a chance to start anew — here we go, now it’s really time, kind of reset the kids’ minds, refocus them a bit.”
Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or email@example.com.