LAURINBURG — Just like last season, Scotland is the final team carrying the Southeastern Conference banner in the state football playoffs.
But it didn’t come easy.
The Fighting Scots needed an interception by Tim McNeill in the final minute to seal a 35-28 victory over E.E. Smith in the 4A Mideast pod final.
At the same time just a few miles to the west, Richmond was moments away from joining their rivals in the march towards Chapel Hill and a state championship. The Raiders took a 52-49 lead on a 29-yard field goal by Brandon Greene with 1:42 left in the contest. Jack Britt quarterback Mark McRae countered by guiding his team on a seven-play, 68-yard game-winning drive, capped by his 37-yard touchdown pass to Jalen McDaniel.
Scotland will travel to New Bern to face the Bears for the East Region title. The two schools also battled in last year’s region final as the Fighting Scots (12-1) cruised to a 61-28 win en route to their first 4A state crown.
New Bern has dominated its opposition in posting a 13-0 record this season. The Bears are averaging 44.8 points a game, while surrendering 14.1. The team’s closet contest was in Week 2, a 34-33 victory over 3A East Region finalist Havelock.
Jack Britt (12-2) will take on Garner in tonight’s 4AA East Region championship. The Trojans (14-0) knocked off Leesville Road 56-35 last week.
Scotland at New Bern
Coaches: Richard Bailey, Scotland. Bobby Curlings, New Bern.
Records: Scotland 12-1. New Bern 13-0.
Last game: Jaylend Ratliffe led Scotland’s offensive attack with 164 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Ratliffe also passed for another 80 and found TraShawn Gregory for a 47-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Josh McPhatter rushed for 79 yards and two scores for the Fighting Scots, but needed a Tim McNeill interception to close out E.E. Smith, 35-28. New Bern’s Jachin Watkins ran for 234 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, while Cody Purdie found the end zone three times in a 49-35 win over New Hanover.
Key matchup: Scotland’s defense vs. New Bern’s balanced offense. It is the old standby cliche of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. Until its last two contests, Scotland’s defense had allowed opponents just 9.7 points a game. Lee County and E.E. Smith combined to score 55 to bring the average of to 12.4. It should be noted most of the Yellow Jackets’ 27 points came while the first-string defense was on the sidelines. Artemis Robinson tops the defense with 142 total tackles, while Chris Moss has 134. Led by quarterback Josh Taylor, New Bern is averaging 44.8 points. Taylor is a dual threat for the Bears, passing for 2,371 yards and 24 touchdowns, while running for another 1,207 yards and 13 scores. Jachin Watkins is the team’s leading rusher with 1,292 yards and 17 scores. Taylor has two threats on the outside — Chandler Powell and Bra’lon Cherry. Powell has a team-leading 36 receptions and three touchdowns, while Cherry has 34 catches and a team-high nine scores.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.