The quest for a state title begins

Published 7:46 pm Thursday, November 3, 2011

It’s win or go home tonight for the four Four Rivers Conference area teams that survived the regular season and advanced to the NCHSAA 1-A playoffs.
After winning a share of the Four Rivers Conference crown, Plymouth, the seventh-ranked team in the state earned a No. 3 seed in its pod, while co-conference champions Manteo took home the top seed thanks to their head-to-head victor over Plymouth. The Vikings will begin their run at a state title at home tonight against No. 6 Columbia tonight.
The pod system was put in place to help cutback on the costs of travel during the playoffs, and while the schools like the idea of saving money, most coaches aren’t in favor of it because their teams end up playing conference opponents in the first round.
That’s exactly what happened to No. 4 Southside and No. 5 South Creek, who will have to face each other tonight after having battled each other only a few short weeks ago.
Though the coaches may not like having to see another conference team in the first round, the fans should enjoy this one because its figures to be one of the most exciting matchups in the playoffs tonight.
Also playing a fellow Four Rivers Conference foe in the first round will be No. 3 Riverside, who will host No. 6 Camden in 1-AA battle.
Here’s a look at the matchups:

No. 5 South Creek (4-7) at No. 4 Southside (6-5)
Once again, the pod system produced a first round matchup pitting conference opponents against one another, and while Southside coach DeWayne Kellum is not a fan of the system, the way he sees it is the road to a state championship is never easy no matter what system is in place.
“You got to play good teams to get to a state championship,” Kellum said. “People whine about who their playing, but you got to beat them all so what does it matter. If you got to play them, play them. If South Creek beats us, good for them they get to go (to the second round).”
Tonight, Kellum and his Seahawks will look at avenge a 38-34 Week 9 loss to the Cougars in which they nearly overcame five lost fumbles.
Though Southside is the higher seed, Kellum knows tonight’s game will be a tough one.
“They’re better than what their record indicates,” Kellum said. “If you expect to beat a team like that you can’t lay the ball on the ground and spot them 18 points. We’ll come out and play them straight up and see how good they are and how good we are.”
There is no question South Creek’s dual-threat quarterback Reginald Parker is good, and Southside knows it must keep him in check to be successful.
“Anytime you face a running quarterback you have to treat him like a tailback,” Kellum said. “If our linebackers do what they are supposed to do we’ll be fine.”
Though the temptation is always there, Kellum said he will not make any major changes to his game plan from the team’s previous matchup.
“I’m not changing anything,” Kellum said. “We’ll bring our A game and they’ll bring their A game and the best team will advance.”
While Southside heads into the playoffs with momentum from their 41-0 win over Northside in the Anchor Bowl, the Cougars are looking to rebound from a 34-7 loss to Riverside that was much closer than the final score would indicate.
In the team’s Week 9 matchup against the Seahawks, South Creek’s defensive line, led by 6-3, 250-pound junior Jaquan Durham, played a pivotal role in helping it build its early lead and Cougars’ coach Jeremy Jones said he will need that kind of effort again tonight.
“We feel like we really have one of the best D-lineman in the conference in Jaquan, he’s about as good as you’re going to find in 1-A football,” Jones said. “We feel like he’s somebody that has to get double teamed and accounted for at all times. When he’s playing well he disrupts other team’s backfield’s and the rest of our D-line feeds off of that.”
Whichever team makes it out of that battle will advance to the second round to face the winner of the No. 8 Mattamuskeet-No.1 Manteo game.

No. 6 Columbia (3-3, Tideland) at No. 3 Plymouth (9-1)
After losing the second-to-last game of the year to Manteo in a 46-40 overtime thriller, Plymouth ended its regular season in style as it wiped out Perquimans 64-0 to head into the postseason with some momentum.
As of the middle of the week, Plymouth coach Robert Cody had not been able to exchange game film with Columbia, so instead he has turned his team’s focus on itself.
“We just got to prepare ourselves to get better,” Cody said. “It’s a week that we just go back to fundamentals and work on blocking and tackling.”
It can be challenging to prepare for a team when you don’t know much about them, but Cody said it gives him a chance to more intensely evaluate his own roster.
“I may not know much about them, but I know my team. and what I have to make sure that we do is align properly and block and tackle,” Cody said. “We’re looking at some personnel changes and we will move some people around that have gotten better throughout the year. … You can’t prepare for another team without preparing your self. I read that in a book somewhere and it made a lot of sense.”
If Plymouth manages to make it past the Wildcats it will prepare itself to play the winner of the No. 7 Cape Hatteras-No.2 Creswell game.

No. 6 Camden (3-7) at No. 3 Riverside (6-5)
Tied at 7-7 with South Creek in the second half, Riverside came up with a big red zone stop and a few plays later Ramelle Lanier broke off an 83-yard run to take a 14-7 lead and eventually a 34-7 victory. That pivotal chain of events changed complexion of the game and handed Riverside the momentum, which they hope will carry over into tonight’s matchup with Camden.
Momentum has been on the Knight’s side since their Week 6 12-7 win over the Bruins, as they have only lost one game since that contest.
Riverside has progressed each week since that game and have received a big boost from the return of Lanier, who did not play against the Bruins the first time around.
The Knights’ defense has been one of the best in the conference all year long as it has held opponents to under 10 points five times, and has pitched two shutouts.
That defense will have to play a fundamentally sound game tonight when it combats Camden’s option attack.
“They run a splitback veer and run the option,” Riverside coach Asim McGill said. “We have to come out and play assignment football.”
McGill said the key for his team is to limit its mistakes.
“We have to come out and execute,” McGill said. “You have to make the other team beat you. You can’t come out and turn the ball over, you have to make them drive the ball to beat you. We don’t want to give them a short field or anything like that.”
If the Knights can do that, they will advance to face the winner of the No. 7 Heide Trask-No. 2 Southwest Onslow game.