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Southern Nash, North Johnston get 'muddy' in SSS scrimmage

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SMITHFIELD — In the inaugural Muddy Water Classic stacked with quality competition from around the region, Southern Nash, in all likelihood, was the best football team to take the field Wednesday night at Smithfield-Selma High.

Playing among a 16-team field, the Firebirds certainly impressed as they played up to their usual standards in the team’s final scrimmage of the preseason. In fact, the Firebirds played with such efficiency in the last scrimmage of the night against Southeast Guilford under the bright lights of Charles T. Tucker Stadium that a number of coaches and players passing by on their way to the buses couldn’t help but stop and admire the way the Southern Nash played. 

The Firebirds boasted an electric offense that moved the ball with ease in the final dress rehearsal before welcoming in Warren County for the season opener Friday, Aug. 23. Southern Nash played scrimmages against four teams in succession, moving from area to area on campus and continuing to play at the same high level.

Starting with Raleigh Enloe, then continuing in competition against CaryPanther Creek, Fayetteville Cape Fear and finally against the Falcons of Southeast Guilford, Southern Nash scored early and often with both its starters and the second unit that came in for work. On several plays, senior quarterback Matt Foster escaped into space and gashed defenses down the sidelines. A talented cast of backs around him, including Quinton Cooley, also found open holes routinely and evaded the defense for long gains.

“That’s our bread and butter, moving the football and trying to keep the chains moving,” head coach Brian Foster explained. “I thought for the most part we did a good job of that.”

On the other side of the ball, the Firebirds defense gave up little of the yardage to oppposing offenses. Foster wasn’t quite sure how many times opponents scored on his team, but he knew it was “not many” as drives moved slow and big plays were hard to find.

“I was proud of the D,” Foster said. “I thought we did a better job of communicating. Last year in the playoffs we were absolutely terrible in the game we lost.”

At the end of the day, Foster said it doesn’t matter much how well you perform in scrimmages. It only matters in games. His main goal, outside of working through the kinks before wins and losses are at stake, was “staying healthy,” and escaping back to Stanhope without any blows to the depth chart. To his best knowledge, his team succeeded at that goal.

But if Wednesday’s performance was any indication of what will come in 2019, Southern Nash looks poised to build on the success of recent years. In just the last three seasons, the Firebirds have gone on a 34-4 run, including a 15-0 regular-season record in the 3-A Big East Conference. 

Outside of a feeling, Foster wasn’t ready to give any definitive answers on how he thought his team performed in the scrimmage. He’ll wait to decide that later.

“Hopefully it looks good on film,” he said.

Excitement abounds for North Johnston

After watching his team compete in the same jamboree, North Johnston first-year head coach Michael Barnett is hopeful about the Panthers potential.

“I’m excited,” Barnett said. “We played a little bit better than I was expecting. Obviously, we’ve got to get in shape, of course this right here is playing in a sauna so everybody is suffering. We had some kids thrown in at different places and they did good, so I’m excited.”

Barnett said that scrimmages serve a specific purpose at letting the coaches know just where the players are with the season on the horizon. While it may not always mimic what the season will be like, it does let them know how players can adapt in-game.

North Johnston took on Hobbton, Goldsboro and North Lenoir on Wednesday — with all three teams giving a different look to adjust. That, to Barnett, was the best part of the scrimmage for him.

“You get to see a bunch of different teams at one time and you get to see how your kids are doing because you don’t really get to prep for it,” Barnett said headed into the final scrimmage of the night. “We faced an Air Raid team, we faced a pro-style team, we’re getting ready to play a (wing)-T team.” 

On top of players getting accustomed to the game speed, Barnett said scrimmages also prepare the coaching staff too.

“Like in the first one, I made a mistake. I put us in the wrong coverage and I learned, you can’t put us in that coverage. And once we switched, we were fine.”

In spite of his excitement, Barnett noted a few areas that need improvement before the first game. He said the timing of linemen and running backs working together in the running lanes that are crucial to the triple offense needs work, as do defenders need to move in on the ballcarrier as a unit. 

With one more week before the first game, Barnett is excited to see, after a meaningful set of scrimmages, where his team will be when the season begins.

“It’s getting more and more intense inside my head,” Barnett said. “Today was fun. Next Friday will be a different kind of fun because we’ll start preparing tomorrow for Red Springs and go from there.”

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