LAURINBURG — While this week is void of any “big time” matchups in the Southeastern Conference, all of tonight’s contests have postseason implications for the participants.
Scotland will look to remain unbeaten in conference play and set up a showdown with its arch-rival Richmond for the SEC title. While winning a league championship would be nice for either team, the real carrot being dangled in front of both the Raiders and the Fighting Scots is earning a top seed in their pods when the North Carolina High School Athletic Association releases the playoff brackets next week.
However, Scotland will have to get past a Lumberton team, which is searching for its fifth victory on the season and put itself in position to at worst earn a wild-card berth into the postseason. The Pirates are winless in three league contests and are stuck in the SEC cellar with their in-county rival, Purnell Swett.
Despite losing five of their last six games, the Rams have a chance to qualify for the playoffs as the No. 4 team out the conference. A victory tonight at Hoke County, another next week against Lumberton and a Hoke loss to Pinecrest would give Purnell Swett the conference’s fourth automatic berth.
With seven wins already in their pockets and the NCHSAA’s pod system used to fill brackets, the Bucks have little chance of missing the postseason, even if they were to fall to fifth in the SEC. Currently in fourth, Hoke can move up to grab the No. 3 seed with two victories to close out the regular season plus a little help. The Bucks would need to knock off Purnell Swett tonight, have Pinecrest lose to Richmond and then beat the Patriots next week.
Lumberton at Scotland
Coaches: Mike Brill, Lumberton. Richard Bailey, Scotland.
Records: Lumberton 4-4, 0-3. Scotland 7-1, 3-0.
Last game: Lumberton pushed Richmond, the third-ranked team in the state, to the edge before falling 30-17. The Pirates led the Raiders until the final minute of the third quarter, when Richmond outscored Lumberton 21-7 the rest of the way. Daniel Robinson rushed for a team-high 104 yards and a touchdown for the Pirates. Scotland found itself of the wrong side of the scoreboard at halftime for the first time in three Southeastern Conference contests. In fact, the Fighting Scots were still trailing heading into the fourth quarter before exploding for three touchdowns to pull away for a 34-19 win over Hoke County.
Key matchup: Lumberton’s Wing-T vs. Scotland’s defense. From their Wing-T set, the Pirates will keep running, running and running so more looking to either break a long gain or lull the defense to sleep and then loft a pass deep into the secondary. This philosophy nearly paid dividends against Richmond last week. The Fighting Scots have the best scoring defense in the SEC, allowing just over 10 points a game. Hoke became just the fourth team this season to hit double-digits but the second straight league opponent to do so against Scotland. Lumberton is second from the bottom in offense and may find it difficult to find the end zone this week.
Purnell Swett at Hoke County
Coaches: Mark Heil, Purnell Swett. Milton Butts, Hoke County
Records: Purnell Swett 2-6, 0-3. Hoke County 7-2, 1-2.
Last game: Purnell Swett held a slim seven-point lead going into the fourth quarter, before Pinecrest scored three unanswered touchdowns to claim a 20-7 victory. For the third straight game the Rams were scoreless on offense as Isaac Jacobs returned a fumble 65 yards to account for the only touchdown. For three quarters, Hoke County put itself in position to pull off a big upset for the second year in a row. After beating Richmond last season, the Bucks were 12 minutes away from downing No. 7 Scotland. The Fighting Scots recovered to score 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to post a 34-19 win.
Key matchup: Purnell Swett’s defense vs. Hoke County’s rushing attack. The Rams sport not only the worst offense in the conference, but also the worst defense as well, allowing 31.6 points per game. The 20 points surrendered to Pinecrest last week marked the first time since blanking South Robeson on Sept. 14, Purnell Swett has allowed less than 42 points. After being bottled up by Richmond in the conference opener, Detrez Newsome has found his footing again. Newsome rushed for 171 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries against Scotland. Newsome has a chance to add video-game like numbers to his season stats this week against the Rams.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.