Friday Football Preview: Southside, Plymouth meet with title trip up for grabs

Published 6:26 pm Thursday, December 8, 2016


Location: Plymouth

Time: 7:30 p.m.

PLYMOUTH — It’s a familiar scenario for Southside and Plymouth. Friday marks the second straight semifinal and third consecutive playoff meeting between the two teams. The Seahawks and Vikings will both enter Friday’s 1-A eastern regional championship game, but only one will emerge with a trip to next weekend’s state championship game.

The Vikings rolled through the first three rounds of the playoffs last year before a staunch Seahawks group took them down to the wire. It was a one-possession, 17-12 win for Plymouth, which went on to claim the 1-A crown against Robbinsville.

But this isn’t the same Plymouth team as last season. Much like Southside, which graduated the likes of Johnny Sullivan, Lawrence Brown, Matt Baxter and Donshae Tatum, the Vikings have had to retool after losing an impressive collection of players from last year’s group. Chris Kelly and Chad Dance combined for just north of 3,000 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns. Raequan Purvis — who secured a spot on East Carolina’s football roster — and Raheem Nixon were two of three Vikings with more than 100 total tackles.

The more things change, though, the more they stay the same. The players may be different, but the system remains largely the same. It’s a concept that Southside knows well.

“They haven’t changed much in the last couple of years,” Southside coach Jeff Carrow said. “They’re a lot like us. They’re going to run their base stuff and they’re going to be successful. They’ve added a few different wrinkles. From year to year, every offense is going to do that.

“Defensively, they’re still a 3-5 defense. They’re quick. Film study, it’s about what we saw last year.”

While the Vikings are doing well to defend their state championship, the season has been a work in progress from the get go. They experienced growing pains as they lost three consecutive games to open the season — their only three losses on the year.

They were blanked by strong 2-A teams in Northeastern and Edenton, the latter of which is playing for a regional title of its own. Sandwiched between those was a 20-point loss to Riverside.

Plymouth got back on track with a 41-7 shellacking of Camden County. It leveled its record at 3-3 on Sept. 30 with a 17-14 victory over Washington. All in all, the Vikings are rolling on an 11-game winning streak.

“It doesn’t matter how you start. It’s how you finish,” Carrow said. “They’ve finished well. They played a really tough non-conference schedule, which maybe skewed people’s view of them. They’re a solid team. They’re a well-coached team, and they’re going to be ready to play.”

Offensively, Plymouth doesn’t have quite the same firepower in the backfield it did, but there’s still plenty of talent there. Ronald Wilkins has followed up his 1,000-yard junior campaign nicely. He leads the Vikings with 1,118 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. Aaron Wilkins and Josh Downing combine for an additional 1,438 yards and eight touchdowns apiece. Junior Ji’quay Jackson has been a red-zone threat. He’s scored 10 touchdowns on just 59 carries.

Samyr Cooper threw for over 1,000 yards as a freshman last season. He only has 568 passing yards going into Friday, but has been successful throwing to his running backs. His arm tends to be a comfortable backup option when the Vikings aren’t getting much on the ground.

Even if they can’t get moving against Southside’s ever-improving defensive line, Cooper and the Vikings ought to be careful airing it out against a dominant Seahawks’ secondary. The sophomore signal caller has thrown 11 interceptions this year, and Southside’s defense has a nose for picking off opposing quarterbacks.

Despite what it lost from last year’s team, Plymouth boasts an awfully experienced defense. Seniors Ja’veion Spruill, Wayne Johnson, Kwanandre Rhines and Diedre Whitehead each have well over 100 total tackles on the season.

Like the Seahawks, the Vikings are apt at forcing turnovers. Sophomore Victor Bryant has three of the team’s 10 interceptions. Spruill has recovered five of their 19 fumbles, too.

Just like last time, it’s going to come down to which team can make more plays. If Southside can continue performing at the same level — that is, if the offense operates with top-notch efficiency while taking care of the ball, and the defense neutralizes about everything its opponent throws out there — then the Seahawks have a fine chance to contending for the state championship in Chapel Hill next weekend.

Josh Keyes and Damion Bond find themselves in behind the line of scrimmage against Northampton County. They’re just two of many Seahawks that are more than able to get into the backfield.

Josh Keyes and Damion Bond find themselves in behind the line of scrimmage against Northampton County. They’re just two of many Seahawks that are more than able to get into the backfield.

A look at Southside and Plymouth’s two common opponents:


Southside dropped an overtime contest, 26-20, at Riverside on Sept. 9. The Seahawks had lost at home to Northside the week before, marking the only consecutive losses they suffered this season.

Plymouth also lost at Riverside in its second game of the season. The Vikings were torched in the air. Jadakis Bonds and Markel Freeman each passed the century mark in receiving yards, and each hauled in a pair of touchdowns in the 47-27 win.

Comparatively, Southside was able to slow Riverside’s aerial assault. Freeman led the Knights with 96 receiving yards. Meanwhile, the Seahawks offense had Trajan Rhome, Jamison Bennett and Zikajah Crawford all rush for more yards than the 35 Ji’Quay Jackson was able to muster against Riverside.

Jones Senior:

Plymouth rocked Jones Senior in the second round of the playoffs. Elijah Carmack, Aaron Wilkins and Josh Downing each rushed for 60 or more yards in the 49-13 win. The Viking defense held every Trojan rusher to zero or negative yardage. They found some success through the air, but it was far from enough.

Anthony Taylor, who had -22 yards against Plymouth, lit up Southside for 145 yards and four touchdowns. The Trojans narrowly won that conference meeting, 36-30. Jones Senior couldn’t overcome Plymouth’s defensive front, even if it’s a bit smaller than usual.

Plymouth’s playoff meeting with Jones Senior was almost exactly three months after its loss to Riverside, which is indicative of the Vikings peaking at the right time.