Friday Football Preview: Local teams on the road to open the season

Published 6:24 pm Thursday, August 18, 2016

It’s been a long time coming, but the lights are finally turning on over eastern North Carolina high school football fields. Unfortunately, none of the stadiums in Beaufort County will be illuminated this Friday as Washington, Northside and Southside hit the road to open their respective 2016 campaigns.

Every team in the state will face its fair share of challenges to open the season. Some — like Southside — are hoping to follow up tremendous amounts of success from less than a year ago, but are faced with retooling after losing instrumental players.

Then there are groups like Northside. While the Panthers found a minimal amount of success last year, nearly the entire roster returns and has a year of experience under its belt.

No local team faces more challenges than Washington. The Pam Pack went into the preseason knowing it had to practically overhaul its entire offense. It historically attacks on the ground, but decided to spread the ball around due to what it lost from last year’s offensive line.

The Pam Pack, days ahead of being thrown into the fire against Havelock, lost its starting quarterback. Frederick Holscher now takes the reins of an offense that will do its best to work through the adversity.

No matter the challenges leading into the first week of the season, all bets are off the table under the lights. Each team has been building toward this moment for months. The Pam Pack, Seahawks and Panthers will each do everything in their power to start this season on the right foot.

Frederick Holscher steps back and scans his options during a seven-on-seven preseason clash with West Carteret. Holscher, who took plenty of reps at quarterback during the preseason, was recently thrust into the starting role. He and the Pam Pack will be tested immediately by a dominant Havelock team. (Ashley Vansant/WDN)



Location: Havelock

Time: 7 p.m.

Washington faces arguably its toughest tests of the season right away. Havelock is coming off a 12-1 season that featured a perfect 6-0 slate in the 3-A Coastal Conference.

The Rams return most of their offensive firepower from that season. It all starts with quarterback Corey Cooper who, as a junior, threw for 1,162 yards and 17 touchdowns. He amassed another 743 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.

While Cooper is the engine that makes their offense go, he isn’t the only threat. Tony Sharpe and Montrece Gatling were both dominant out of the backfield. The duo combined for over 2,000 rushing yards and 33 touchdowns.

Cooper’s go-to option in the air will be senior Quinzel Lockhart, who had 647 receiving yards and hauled in eight touchdowns.

The strongest part of Washington’s team this year will be its experienced secondary. Defensive backs Logan Little and Cooper Anderson are among the team’s battle-tested seniors. Junior cornerback Nazzir Hardy has had strong showings in the preseason and is pegged to be an important part of the group.

The secondary will be important in defending Havelock’s big plays through the air. However, with the Pam Pack’s relative size deficiency up front, the Rams could have little to no problem running the ball throughout most of the game.

Stout defensive play will be necessary to keeping the game from getting out of hand. That’s especially true now that Frederick Holscher is in command of the offense. He spent the preseason as the team’s likely backup candidate before being thrust into the role mere days before the start of the season. He showed he has the tools for success at the junior varsity level last season, but will need to lean on the more veteran players around him while he gets a feel for the system and the speed at the varsity level.

“Frederick is ready for this. He played all last year for JV,” coach Sport Sawyer said. “He’s tough. He’s a competitor. We’ll see what he’s made of. … We’ve got to do some work. All the run plays, (Holscher’s) new to them. In JV, they didn’t run as many of these plays.”




Location: Creswell

Time: 7 p.m.

Northside has a lot to be excited about for this upcoming season. Last year wasn’t a fruitful one for the Panthers, but they did lay the groundwork for what could shape up to be the school’s best season in some time.

They get to ease their way into this campaign, too. The Panthers opened last year with a 28-12 win over the Tigers. They hope to start off strong by doing the same against them this time around.

Creswell, while also unsuccessful last season, doesn’t return nearly as much talent as Northside. Receiver Keshon Blount is among the only notable threats who didn’t graduate from the Tigers’ 2-10 team last year.

Defensively, Matthew Marslender will help hold down a strong secondary while Northside’s strong front seven will make it tough for Creswell to move on the ground.

The senior trio of quarterback Jackson Midgette and running backs Chris Slade and James Barrow has plenty of experience entering this season. The three have an understanding of Northside’s offense and have each improved as athletes.

Combine that with a handful of additions to what should be a dominant offensive line and the Panthers should have no problem moving the ball.

Once Northside establishes its ability to run the ball, watch for coach Keith Boyd to open up the playbook and have Midgette take to the air. The Panthers will primarily use their wing-T and option-based hybrid offense to rush, but Boyd wants to attack some in the air, too.




Location: North Duplin

Time: 7 p.m.

Southside and North Duplin enter the season in similar positions. Both teams lost players who were significant members of their respective teams for a few years.

For the Seahawks, their offense enters a new era after the graduation of elite running backs in Matt Baxter and Lawrence Brown. They also lost talented players in quarterback Johnny Sullivan and lineman Donshae Tatum. Those four, among others, were integral to Southside making it to the eastern regional championship last season.

Even though they’re retooling a bit, coach Jeff Carrow refuses to lower the expectations. Reasonably so, too, considering the talent on the team this year. Senior running backs Zikajah Crawford and Joe Myers are two players who have been waiting to make their impact on the offense. With quarterback Marshall Medlock running the show, there’s a chance that Southside doesn’t experience much of a drop off.

This first game will be a chance for Carrow to see what the offensive line is capable of. Many of the positional battles were taking place right up front and could bleed into the season opener.

The Seahawks appear in good condition defensively. Linebacker Hunter Sparks returns as one of the team’s undisputed leaders. Given that North Duplin graduated its top-three rushers from last year, Southside’s front seven shouldn’t be heavily tested right off the bat.