LAURINBURG — After losing in the 4A championship game to Dudley last season, experts across the state pegged Scotland as the team to beat this year.
Things changed days before the first official practice when starting quarterback and Georgia Tech verbal commitment Jaylend Ratliffe suffered a head injury while riding an ATV. Ratliffe has been recovering at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte since the accident.
Scotland coach Richard Bailey said even though his team lost a player that accounted for 52 touchdowns last season, expectations will remain the same — win the Southeastern Conference title and capture a state championship.
“This is a team sport and we have a lot of great players,” Bailey said. “Jaylend Ratliffe is one of the five or six best players in the state of North Carolina. You don’t just replace a Jaylend Ratliffe, you don’t, nobody we are going to put there is going to be even close. But we have a lot of other pieces that maybe we now become a well-rounded offense. I feel good about our tight end position with Robert Beacham. I feel very good about our running back Quadrin Williams, who is one of the fastest kids in the state. We have a good group of wide receivers that are taller than some of the ones we have played with the last couple of years, a couple of 6-2 guys that can go get the ball. And Ty McLaurin, who is a slot receiver for us, started as a freshman last year. He’s a dynamic play-maker type of guy. We still got some weapons.
“I was hoping Jaylend Ratliffe was going to be the guy to do it for me. Our expectations haven’t changed one bit. We want to win a conference championship and we want to win a state championship. We still have enough pieces to do that, our margin of error probably diminished a little bit. But our kids are accepting the challenge that we put to them. They know that we’re all going to have to chip in a little bit more. Our kids are ready to do that and they are going to do it with Jaylend in their hearts.”
Junior Dashaun Ferguson is expected to win the battle at quarterback, but is being pushed by senior Jaleel McLean.
“Deshaun will probably get the first chance to be the quarterback for us, he’s our backup,” Bailey said. “He was our starter on JV last year and the jayvees went 8-2. He had a lot to do with it. I feel like he can be a very good game manager and can do some things to help us win football games. He doesn’t have to win it all by himself. Jaylend was the type that he could take it on his back and just about win the game by himself. But Deshaun doesn’t have to do that.”
Without Ratliffe in the backfield, Bailey added he will rely on his defense and special teams to try to win a fourth straight SEC title.
“The defense is going to be one of the best I have ever coached. A good nucleus of guys coming back,” Bailey said. “Last year we were going to score 50 and if you could keep up with us, then great. Maybe our defense gave up 21 because we were giving our opponents more possessions. Well now that mentality is going to change a little bit. We’ll probably ball control a little bit more. We’ll try to shorten the game some. If you win 42-21, well you won by 21. If we win 28-7, we still won by 21. It’s going to be a different way of doing things.
“I’ve had teams at Jack Britt where we didn’t have dynamic quarterbacks and we played a different style of football. We’re still going to be a spread offense and we’re still going to be no-huddle, but the one thing I like is we can control the tempo of the game, we can play at whatever pace we want to play at. We going to rely heavily on our defense and we’re going to rely on our kicking game.”
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-817-2671 or on Twitter @scgolfer.