LAURINBURG — For the first time since the Southeastern Conference was reformed three years ago, all six members were selected for the postseason.
In the past, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association has pulled four teams from the league, but this time, all six were tapped.
Scotland County, the conference champions, earned the top seed in the Mideast pod as well as the No. 1 seed in the 4A East bracket. Joining the Fighting Scots in the Mideast pod is Purnell Swett. The Rams were battling for their playoff lives in the final two weeks of the season and clinched a spot with a victory over in-county rival Lumberton.
Lumberton is the lone SEC representative in the 4AA East bracket. The Pirates were placed in the Mideast pod and are the No. 5 seed.
The remaining three league teams were dropped into the 4AA West bracket and the Midwest pod. Richmond is the No. 4 seed, while Hoke County is seeded seventh and Pinecrest is the No. 8 seed.
Harnett Central at Scotland County
Coaches: Patrick Turner, Harnett Central. Chip Williams, Scotland County.
Records: Harnett Central 5-5, 4A Mideast No. 8 seed. Scotland County 10-0, 4A Mideast No. 1 seed.
Last game: The Trojans closed out the regular season with three straight losses, the latest to No. 5 Garner, 44-23. While the game turned into a blowout, Harnett Central was leading 17-7 at halftime, before collapsing in the second half. The Trojans surrendered 316 rushing yards to Garner’s Juwan Moye in the loss. The Fighting Scots ended 17 years of frustration with a 41-7 victory over Richmond Senior. Tony McRae scored four touchdowns, three on the ground for Scotland County. The win allowed the Fighting Scots to earn its first conference championship since 2001.
Key matchup: Harnett Central’s passing attack vs. Scotland’s playoff expectations. The Trojans will want to pass the ball against their competition. Quarterback Blake Ware has thrown for 1,638 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. He has three main targets in the offense — Zek Lucas, Anfernee Hunter and Torin Walker. Lucas leads the team with 26 catches for 314 yards and four touchdowns. Hunter has 24 receptions for 356 yards and two scores. Walker has 20 grabs with 318 yards and two touchdowns. The Fighting Scots were expected to win the SEC title but few thought it would come this easy. Scotland County outscored the opposition by an average of 29.8 points a game in conference play. Now the Fighting Scots are the No. 1 seed in the 4A East bracket.
Purnell Swett at Hillside
Coaches: Mark Heil, Purnell Swett. Antonio King, Hillside.
Records: Purnell Swett 5-5, 4A Mideast No. 7 seed. Hillside 9-1, 4A Mideast No. 2 seed.
Last game: The Rams knew it had to knock off their in-county rival Lumberton to keep its postseason aspirations alive. Purnell Swett dominated the Pirates in a 25-7 win. The Rams scored 19 points in a span of just over seven minutes in the second quarter to pull away for the win. It was the third straight win for Purnell Swett over Lumberton and seven out of the last eight. The Hornets extended their winning streak to nine games with a 46-20 win over Northern Durham. The victory clinched the CAP-6 title for Hillside. The defending 4A state champions led 14-13 at halftime, before pulling away in the second half.
Key matchup: Purnell Swett’s offensive firepower vs. Hillside’s defense. The Rams may be the most dangerous 5-5 team in any bracket in the state. Purnell Swett is averaging 34.1 points a game and have scored at least 20 points in every contest this year. A senior-laded team, the Rams rely on quarterback Chase Armstrong to get the ball to Juwan Jones, Travon Clark and Tyrell McDonald. Jones is capable of scoring on offense, defense and special teams. During last season’s run to the 4A title, Hillcrest not only counted on current Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Vad Lee to make plays at quarterback, but a stingy defense. Despite Lee’s graduation, the Hornets are still scoring at a clip of 36.8 points per contest. The defense is just as stout again this year. In its last five games, Hillside is allowing 8.2 points per game.
Lumberton at Cary
Coaches: Mike Brill, Lumberton. Ben Kolstad, Cary.
Records: Lumberton 7-3, 4AA Mideast No. 5 seed. Cary 8-2, 4AA Mideast No. 4 seed.
Last game: The Pirates continued their late season slide. Lumberton dropped its third straight game of the year and in the series to Purnell Swett, 25-7. Offense continued to be the Achilles Heel for the Pirates, managing 163 yards of total offense in the loss. The team’s lone score, a 3-yard run by Daniel Robinson, was set up by a 57-yard kickoff return by Dorian Davis in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. The Imps stretched their winning streak to four with a 36-12 win over Athens Drive. Quarterback Connor Chase threw for a season-high 230 yards and two touchdowns in the victory. He added a 1-yard quarterback sneak.
Key matchup: Lumberton’s lack of offense vs. Cary’s defense. The Pirates have struggled all season to move the football against the opposition and it has been showcased during their three-game losing streak. Lumberton is averaging 12 points a game during the skid. After relying on the defense all season to keep them in games, the Pirates’ D has finally broken, surrendering an average of 29 points in the final three regular season contests. While Lumberton is looking for answers on both sides of the ball, Cary is seemingly hitting its stride. The Imps are outscoring their opponents by more than 22 points during their four-game winning streak. For the season, only Middle Creek has scored more than 20 points against Cary.
Pinecrest at Page
Coaches: Chris Metzger, Pinecrest. Kevin Gillespie, Page.
Records: Pinecrest 5-6, 4AA Midwest No. 8 seed. Page 10-0, 4AA Midwest No. 1 seed.
Last game: Despite having the necessary four wins, the Patriots were still questionable about making the postseason if they lossed to Hoke County. Pinecrest responded with a 20-16 victory over the Bucks to finish fourth in the Southeastern Conference. Despite being stymied most of the night, the Patriots’ Travis Scales managed to throw for 112 yards in the win. Page closed out an undefeated season with 35-13 victory over Southeast Guilford. N.C. State recruit, James Summers, rushed for 242 yards and three touchdowns for the Pirates. Summers also threw for another score.
Key matchup: Pinecrest’s miscues vs. Page’s James Summers. The Patriots have been haunted by turnovers and penalties all season. Richmond Senior coach Paul Hoggard even said if it wasn’t for the miscues Pinecrest could be a 9-2 or 10-1 team. As the Patriots turn the page and prepare for the 4AA East Region’s No. 1 team, turnovers have to weigh heavily on Coach Chris Metzger’s mind. Pinecrest had two fumbles deep in its own territory which led to two touchdowns in a 14-10 loss to Lumberton. Against the Raiders, the Patriots had back-to-back possessions inside the Richmond 20 ended because of turnovers, including an interception at the goal line with under a minute to play. Summers has been a one-man wrecking crew for Page. The senior quarterback has done most of his damage with his legs, but can hit for a big play with his arm. For the Patriots to pull off the major upset, the team has to find a way to contain Summers.
Hoke County at Butler
Coaches: Milton Butts, Hoke County. Brian Hales, Butler.
Records: Hoke 6-5, 4AA Midwest No. 7 seed. Butler 9-1, 4AA Midwest No. 2 seed.
Last game: The Bucks dropped their fourth straight conference contest at home to Pinecrest. Hoke County played its second consecutive game without starting quarterback David Walrath. Despite his absence, the Bucks were just an onside kick recovery away from defeating their rivals. The Bulldogs outslugged rival Independence, 38-26, to win the Southwestern Conference title. After the Patriots sliced the lead to five with just under eight minutes left in the game, Butler went on a 12-play, 80-yard drive capped by a Josh Glisson touchdown-run to put the game away.
Key matchup: Hoke’s quarterback vs. Butler’s playoff history. The Bucks have struggled offensively in the final three weeks of the season without starting quarterback David Walrath, who was injured in the first half of the loss to Scotland County. Without Walrath, the Bucks have scored an average of 11.3 points a game. The opposition has been able to key on running back Detrez Newsome and keep him contained, although he did break away for a 75-yard scoring run against Pinecrest. The Bulldogs know how to win during this time of the year. Butler has won the last two 4AA championships and despite former coach Mike Newsome’s departure are back in the hunt against this season. The Bulldogs’ lone loss this season came in the season opener against No. 1 Mallard Creek.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com