Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing to The Wilson Times.
As a Beddingfield High senior in 1994, James Ward played in a third-round playoff game in Bruins Stadium.
One week after springing an upset of previously unbeaten Hunt, Ward and the Bruins were handled by D.H. Conley 41-14 in the third round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs.
Fast forward 23 years later, and Ward is directing the Bruins in the 2-A ranks in this, his first season as Beddingfield’s head coach. It’s been a success by any measure, with the 8-4 Bruins grabbing a share of the Eastern Plains Conference title and set to appear in the second round of the postseason Friday night.
But make no mistake, a football culture in every sense of the word is set to invade Old Stantonsburg Road this week. After a first-round defeat of EPC rival Farmville Central, the Bruins will play host to the Bulldogs of Wallace-Rose Hill at 7:30 Friday.
The Bulldogs, NCHSAA 1-AA champions a season ago, made the move up to 2-A following realignment and have amassed a 10-1 record. However, the one loss to East Duplin caused No. 5 seed WR-H to miss out on the East Central Conference title. Thus, after Nash Central, Beddingfield and SouthWest all shared the EPC crown, Nash Central was placed in the 2-AA bracket. That left the Bruins (8-4) to claim the head-to-head over the Cougars, and as such, the No. 4 seed in the 2-A East draw for Beddingfield.
Ward had his playoff moment on Beddingfield’s grass over two decades ago. Now, his players will have theirs.
“I think this is the biggest game to be held at Beddingfield High School, as far as hosting — other than D.H. Conley,” Ward said.
Four other teams in The Wilson Times readership area also remain in the postseason Hunt, with SouthWest Edgecombe and Greene Central also populating the 2-A draw. Greene Central, the No. 10 seed in the East, visits No. 2 East Bladen, while the No. 6 seed Cougars are the guest of Southwest Onslow, the No. 3 seed.
In the 3-A bracket, No. 3 East seed Southern Nash is at home as it tries to break a second-round hex against No. 6 Eastern Alamance. Fike, seeded No. 8, heads to Elon with nothing to lose as the Golden Demons take on top seed Western Alamance.
At all sites per NCHSAA rules, kickoff is scheduled for 7:30.
The Beddingfield-Wallace-Rose Hill encounter will be The Wilson Times Game of the Week, with Alton Britt and F.T. Franks on the call from Beddingfield beginning with the pregame show at 7 on wilsontimes.com.
STATE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
It’s the second round, but Ward, who doesn’t back down from inserting the phrase “state championship” into everyday conversation, is treating the moment as something far greater than that.
“What we tried to do with these kids is tell them it’s a state championship football game,” Ward assured.
Indeed, the intensity will have to be at such a level to knock Wallace-Rose Hill out of the postseason.
Beddingfield, which played and defeated Farmville Central on Thursday, had a chance to see the Bulldogs last week in their 42-3 win over Ayden-Grifton. It was Ward’s first trip to the famed “Dog Pound,” a venue that is traditionally inhospitable to opposing teams.
And it’s one the Bruins won’t have to populate Friday night.
“I heard a whole lot about it!” Ward said of the WR-H environment. But lo and behold, they’ve got to pack their bags up. We’ll be in Wilson on Friday, and (the Bulldogs are) coming to Wide Awake on Friday!”
The Bulldogs, under first-year head coach Kevin Motsinger, dropped a 14-12 decision to ECC champion East Duplin for their only loss and own a 26-21 victory over 3-A Havelock in the nonconference. Wallace Rose-Hill operates out of the wing-T, but can diversify into a double wing or spread formation if the need arises. Two running backs, Javonte Williams and Desmond Newkirk, pilot the offense. Williams has 1,536 yards and 20 TDs, while Desmond Newkirk has accounted for 1,224 yards and 19 TDs on the ground.
The Bulldogs have only turned it over seven times all season and boast a plus-13 turnover margin. Defensive end Kameron Magee paces the WR-H defense with 6.5 sacks.
For Beddingfield, it’s the first appearance in the third round since 2005, where the Bruins fell 21-20 at Rocky Mount in the third round of the 3-A playoffs.
Ward reports his Bruins are healthy for one of the few times all season and will get senior running back Aaron Bland back from injury this week. Bland was injured in the regular season against Farmville Central and had spent time in a walking boot.
Beddingfield will rely on its three-headed combination in the running game, led by senior quarterback Sean Jones. Senior Marcus Parker and sophomore Jalil Hutcherson are strength and speed options, respectively.
Ward feels his combination of backs are capable of giving WR-H an offensive presentation it has not yet seen and has previously seen the wing-T this season in a loss at Nash Central.
A playoff victory over Wallace-Rose Hill would elevate the Bruins in area high school football circles.
“To get to where we need to be football wise, this is their moment,” Ward said. “It could change a lot.”
INJURIES BESET FIKE
After avoiding serious injuries for most of the year, Fike (9-3) has been hit hard in the last two weeks.
It started with junior running back Cody Cooper-Speight breaking his collarbone against Hunt, only to be followed by junior linebacker Garrett Browder going out after breaking a bone in his hand versus the Warriors.
Now, add junior defensive back Kavaris Evans to the injury rolls.
Evans broke his wrist in last week’s first-round win over Erwin Triton, which means the Demons will be in a “next man up” mentality when they visit unbeaten Western Alamance (12-0).
“We’ve got to be able to play four complete quarters,” Fike head coach Tom Nelson said. “When you’re the underdog, you want to have a chance in the fourth quarter to be competitive and stay close.”
Therefore, Fike will attempt to grind out first downs and keep the football away from Western Alamance, champions of the Mid-State Conference. Seniors Justin Daniels and Aaron Jolly at running back, as well as the Golden Demons offensive line, will be tasked with the assignment.
Western Alamance operates out of the spread formation, but Nelson said its intent is power running.
Quarterback Christian Daniels has combined for 32 total TDs, including 20 passing and 12 rushing.
Jake Christian is a big-play threat in the backfield and at wide receiver, and defensively, at least 12 Western Alamance defenders have at least one interception.
“They are a very complete football team,” Nelson said of Western Alamance. “Offensively, defensively and on special teams, they don’t have many weaknesses.”
Fike, after a 3-2 start, has won six of seven games.
“We are so excited to be 9-3 and in the second round,” Nelson said. “It’s a great honor for the kids.”
PLAYING SOMEONE ELSE
At Southern Nash, the stopping point of the second round in each of the last four seasons is not something that consumes the Firebirds (11-1) and head coach Brian Foster.
Truthfully, Foster is quite content to see any playoff opponent that isn’t from the Big East. Last year, Southern Nash battled Northern Nash and Rocky Mount in the first two rounds before falling to the Gryphons.
Not so this year, with Eastern Alamance (10-2) serving as the opponent in Firebirds Stadium. The Mid-State Conference Eagles defeated Southern Nash in Mebane in 2015 as part of the four-game losing streak in the second round.
“It may sound stupid, but I’m glad we’re playing people from outside our own conference,” Foster said. “We went to Eastern Alamance (two years ago) and didn’t play our best game.”
Eastern Alamance quarterback Hayden Mann, a James Madison commit, leads the Eagles offense. He’s accounted for 34 touchdowns, 25 of the passing varsity. Tre Boseman has tallied 1,114 yards as the top running back, while Tyson Riley leads a balanced receiving corps.
“They do a lot of things correct,” Foster said of the Eagles. “They remind me a lot of us in some aspects in they do a good job of staying home and not overrunning plays. They’re just a well-balanced team. They are 10-2 for that reason; it’s not by mistake.”
Eastern Alamance has 36 sacks on the season led by the trio of Anthony Elam Jr., Jacob Little and Caleb Ashley, but that may not serve much of a purpose against the double-wing of the Firebirds. Free safety Brian Richardson is the team’s leading tackler with 126 total stops.
Foster said his team is “about as healthy as we can be right now,” although senior quarterback Lorenzo Sessoms is still feeling the effects of injury that sidelined him for several games. Similarly, senior Nadir Thompson, a Virginia Tech commit, is battling a nagging ailment of his own.
As for the second-round jinx? Foster feels the Firebirds are capable of breaking through with a senior-laden unit, paced in the backfield by junior Zonovan Knight and senior Kendrick Bell.
“It’s one of those deals where you’ve got to get over the hump somehow,” Foster said. “I think this team is capable if it doesn’t turn the ball over. That’s what you hope for, for sure.”
Not many clock stoppages are expected in Friday’s 2-A second-round game when SouthWest Edgecombe (10-2) visits Southwest Onslow (9-3).
Both teams excel at smashmouth football, and the winner will likely be the team that imposes its version of the running game on the other.
“I think we’re very similar,” Cougars head coach Jonathan Cobb said. “The same type of play selection and same philosophies. I think it will be an interesting game. We’ve got some concerns for their size and physicality.”
The Stallions, champions of the split 1-A/2-A Coastal 8 Conference, started the season 1-3 before running off eight straight wins. A win would give SWO its 400th victory in program history, and such as result will more than likely come on the ground.
Southwest Onslow has only thrown the football 44 times all season and has a trio of running backs — Jakoby Johnson, Caleb Mahone and Josh Soliz — all over the 1,000-yard mark.
The defense had 81 tackles for loss and is paced by defensive end D’Angelo Mckinnie.
SouthWest Edgecombe counters with senior Alex Foster and junior Dashon Bandy as its primary ball carriers. Bandy is a yard shy of 1,000 with 11 TDs, while Foster has racked up 1,415 yards rushing and 12 TDs.
The Cougars have generated 31 takeaways on defense, with senior Jahkele Goins responsible for eight interceptions and a fumble recovery.
RAMS MARCH ONWARD
The first-round playoff jinx under Greene Central head coach Allen Wooten was halted last week after his Rams (8-4) knocked out Eastern Carolina Conference cohort Kinston 28-6 in the opening round. That assures Greene Central a trip to Elizabethtown for the second round of the 2-A postseason, where Three Rivers Conference tri-champion East Bladen (11-1) lies in wait.
Demetrius Wooten leads the Eagles on the ground, accounting for 1,524 yards and 23 TDs.
However, Greene Central has its own skill players to throw at East Bladen, starting with senior running back Willie Edwards. Edwards has 1,676 yards and 29 TDs for the Rams. Jackson Batchelor, a senior quarterback, has 18 TDs to just three interceptions and his favorite receiver, senior Taboris Bynum has snatched 32 receptions for 665 yards and eight TDs.
All three players led The Wilson Times readership area in their respective statistical categories during the regular season.