Friday Football Preview: Seahawks compete in first regional finals in 11 years

Published 3:02 pm Thursday, December 3, 2015

MICHAEL PRUNKA | DAILY NEWS SLIPPERY: Southside running back Matt Baxter darts down the right sideline, avoiding a diving North Edgecombe linebacker. He and Lawrence Brown will be the Seahawks’ most dangerous weapons, but the whole team will need to step up if they are to take down a hot Plymouth squad.

SLIPPERY: Southside running back Matt Baxter darts down the right sideline, avoiding a diving North Edgecombe linebacker. He and Lawrence Brown will be the Seahawks’ most dangerous weapons, but the whole team will need to step up if they are to take down a hot Plymouth squad.

Location: Plymouth

Time: 7:30 p.m.


PLYMOUTH — Southside makes history Friday evening when it competes for its first Eastern Regional Championship in 11 years. The showdown at Plymouth is a perfect culmination of years of work that has brought the Seahawks this far.

The seniors that lead them have come a long way since a three-win season in 2013. A year later, they produced 10 wins before getting knocked off by Plymouth in the third round of the state championship playoffs.

“We’re going to lean hard on the seniors,” said head coach Jeff Carrow. “These are the same seniors that were a part of a three-win season a few years ago. They know how hard it is and how much it hurts to lose. They turned things around last year and know hard work pays off.

“The seniors are going to have control of the team. They realize there’s nothing to lose at this point. We’re going to go out and play ball. We’ve had a lot of former players from 2002 to 2005 come back, talk to the guys and encourage them. We have one or two on the sidelines. They realize how important it is and preach to them how important of an opportunity they’ve got.”

Plymouth, on the other hand, is hoping to do more of the same. The Vikings have made an appearance in the last three 1-A state championship games, including a title win in 2012. This group knows what it takes to go all the way and seems poised to do just that this year.

The Vikings have just two losses on the season. They were at home to Northeastern in the season opener and another to Washington on Oct. 1. They have rolled over ever challenger thus far in the playoffs with wins over Creswell, Columbia and South Creek by a combined score of 153-19.

“They have a lot of team speed, as usual like they always do,” Carrow said “We’ll have to scheme up how we’re going to block things. Coach (Robert) Cody does an excellent job over there on defense and offense. They’ve got athletes. At this point, every team you’re going to face is going to be a great team.”

Plymouth’s incredible successes on offense and defense won’t force Carrow and the Seahawks to drastically change anything. They’ve added a few more wrinkles to the offense this week, just as they’ve done throughout the playoffs. Besides that, they’ve focused on blocking assignments and defensive responsibilities.

Southside and Plymouth are similar in a lot of ways. Both teams feature a strong one-two punch out of the backfield. For Southside, it’s seniors Lawrence Brown and Matt Baxter. The two have combined for over 3,000 rushing yards this year. The Vikings have a senior duo of their own in Chris Kelly and Chad Dance. They have rushed for almost 2,500 yards and 36 touchdowns.

“Plymouth is a lot like us when it comes down to offense,” Carrow said. “He’s going to do what he does and we’re going to do what we do. He hasn’t changed too much besides a few formations in the past 6 to 10 years and he’s been successful with it. It’s just good to see Winged-T offenses doing well.”

Both teams are as familiar with one another as possible. A lot of the game will come down to how the coaches prepare their game plans and how the players execute under the lights.

The Vikings do take to the air a little more often than Southside. Freshman quarterback Samyr Cooper has been reliable with his decision making this season. He’s thrown for 965 yards, six touchdowns and only has one interception. The Seahawks showed their ability to take advantage of the passing game, too. Johnny Sullivan made big plays in the air for a fourth-down conversion and a touchdown in their third-round win over North Edgecombe.

On defense, Plymouth boasts a formidable front seven. Linebackers Raheem Nixon and Raequan Purvis and defensive tackle Javeion Spruill each have over 100 tackles on the season. Nixon leads the group with 140. As a group, the Viking defense is experienced. It is almost entirely comprised of juniors and seniors.

They will make a habit of trying to stop the run right at the line of scrimmage. They held South Creek to just 43 rushing yards on 26 carries last week. South Creek was able to make a handful of big plays in the air, but still amassed just 185 yards of offense in the whole game. Brown and Baxter will need to be at the top of their games to make the kinds of runs they’re used to.

Carrow has emphasized special teams throughout the playoffs and has seen consistent improvement, too. South Creek was able to return a kickoff for 75 yards against the Vikings. If Southside can manage to pick up return yards consistently, it will take a lot of pressure off the offense.

“Our kickoff team got better,” Carrow said. “We’ve covered the ball better. They have to be an important part of Friday night’s ball game. You’ve got to cover on kickoffs and punts, also. You’ve got to block for them.”

The defense will need to play its part in that regard, too. The Seahawks forced fumbles on two of North Edgecombe’s most pivotal plays last week. They have seen first hand how those kinds of plays can change the tide of a game.

“I think the kids realize at this point how big turnovers are in a game. Especially in playoff ball games,” Carrow said. “We hurt ourselves down there at Plymouth last year. We turned the ball over three or four times. It really hurt us staying in the ball game last year. I think the guys learned from last year and being able to see it in the playoffs this year.”

Nothing is out of reach for this Southside team that has proved it can pull off a win in about any scenario. Plymouth will be, by far, its toughest challenge to date. The Seahawks will need to be at the top of their game to stop a Vikings squad that has been on a path of destruction.