Looking back at week one of the season

Published 7:30 pm Monday, August 20, 2018

The 2018 high school football season finally got underway last Friday with the Washington Pam Pack, Northside Panthers and Southside Seahawks all in action. The three programs entered the latest season with varied expectations, ranging from vying for a conference championship to rebuilding with a young and inexperienced squad. The teams’ results on Friday night reflected the different paths Beaufort County’s teams are on.

Now in the second year of Pam Pack head coach Jon Blank’s project of rebuilding the Washington football program and raising it back to past heights, Blank and his team are gunning for a conference title. Eyebrows around the 2A Eastern Carolina Conference may have been raised upon hearing Washington’s goal, but Friday night’s 46-6 win over East Carteret showed there’s substance to the Pam Pack’s preseason confidence.

In order to compete for a conference title, the Pam Pack would have to answer two questions: can it replace the production of Hykeem Ruffin (2,005 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns), and can Washington improve on a defense that let up 398 points through 12 games in 2017?

Judging off of the 40-point victory over the Mariners, the answer is yes to both. After a slow start, the Pam Pack’s ground game was instrumental in the season-opening win. Instead of relying on a single running back, like last year with Ruffin, Washington has a stable of backs with different strengths to lean on this season. Ganeryan Parker and Michael Clark used their size and power to bulldoze for 106 yards and two touchdowns and 71 yards and a score, respectively. Fast and elusive Ka’ci Foreman chipped in with 58 yards on six carries, including a 36-yard scamper that set up Clark’s first touchdown. As the season moves forward, also expect Mykel Warren, who the Pam Pack coaching staff refers to as the team’s “home run hitter,” to get touches at the running back spot too.

Washington’s defense, with several players promoted up from last year’s JV team, looks to be a strength this year after being a weakness last season. The Pam Pack defense neutralized East Carteret for much of Friday’s game, racking up a plethora of tackles-for-loss and 4 sacks as a team. When the Mariners actually did enter scoring range, Jamari Barnes intercepted a ball in the end zone to end one threat and Foreman picked off a pass at his 20 to quell another. Washington also forced and recovered two fumbles to have four takeaways in the game, which is always a recipe for success.

COACHING THEM UP: The Northside coaching staff gives instructions to some Panthers. Despite the 38-0 win over Perquimans to open the season, head coach Keith Boyd said there is still a lot his team has to work on.(Ashley Vansant | Daily News)

While Washington went into this season with high hopes of winning the conference, Northside’s expectations lie on the other end of the spectrum. A team light on seniors and varsity experience, head coach Keith Boyd and his Panthers are looking to learn on the job and improve as the season goes on. Fortunately for the Panthers, they began the 2018 campaign with a game against a Perquimans team that lost 13 seniors from its 2-9 2017 squad and is also lacking experience, with only six seniors on this year’s team.

Perhaps the perfect game for the Panthers to open the season with, Northside beat the Pirates 38-0, even getting back-ups into the game to get game experience. Northside’s defense was the standout of the night, nullifying Perquimans’ offense and producing a turnover through a Tshawan Roberson interception.

Offensively, the Panthers showed promise. Johnathan Clark both ran for a score and tossed another to Roberson, and generally looked to be settling into his new role as quarterback. Northside also saw production from multiple running backs, with Omari Crandell, Tyler Modlin and James Gorham all scoring. It’s especially important for the Panthers to have multiple backs they can depend on, due to the fact they have a small squad and many of them are also need to start on defense. A platoon approach to the running back position will allow Northside to keep them all fresh enough to play as defenders as well.

But it wasn’t all roses for Boyd and his Panthers. Despite the score line, Northside was sloppy in its play, being called for many penalties and had four touchdowns called back. That is something that will need to be addressed and fixed, or the Panthers will have difficulty winning more games.

While Northside opened the season with the ideal opponent, Southside faced the opposite scenario. Similar to the Panthers, the Seahawks have a young team in 2018 and are looking to grow and improve the more games they play. Unfortunately for Southside, it played Ayden-Grifton, a team with 16 seniors that was on a quest for vengeance after opening last season with a 26-0 loss to the Seahawks. The Chargers blew out Southside, 61-0, and even mentioned their motivation of revenge after the game.

MOVING FORWARD: Southside’s Will Warren and his teammates couldn’t get the offense going against Ayden-Grifton on Friday. Week two’s opponent, Dixon, looks to be a more evenly matched opponent. (Ashley Vansant | Daily News)

The Seahawks displayed their youth early, fumbling away the ball twice and having a punt blocked on their first three possessions of the game. Before head coach Jeff Carrow and his team could blink an eye, Southside trailed 21-0 with five minutes still remaining in the opening quarter.

Even for a team full of seniors and varsity-level experience, a 21-point deficit is a rather large hole to dig out of, let alone a young squad like Southside’s. But it proceeded to get worse for the Seahawks. Ayden-Grifton showed it didn’t need turnovers to generate offense, racking up 372 total yards of offense, averaging 10.1 yards per play. And when Southside wasn’t turning over the ball, it was averaging 2.8 yards per play on offense.

Despite how well or how poorly Friday went, it is too early to make conclusions on these teams. As they play more games, the easier it will be to evaluate them. Week two of the season could very well see a reversal of fortunes for Washington, Northside and Southside. After impressing at home against East Carteret, the Pam Pack will head to Tarboro this Friday to take on the defending state champion Vikings, who opened the year with a 49-6 win over Washington County. Losing to the powerhouse program wouldn’t necessarily mean Washington isn’t quite ready to compete for a conference title, but a blowout loss could take away the team’s momentum. On the flip side, a win at Tarboro would serve as a warning to the Pam Pack’s future opponents.

Likewise, Northside will see a large step up in the quality of opposition this Friday at home. The Panthers will host a North Duplin team that opened this year with a 42-14 victory over South Creek after making it to the fourth round of the playoffs in 2017. Northside will feel confident after Friday’s comprehensive win over Perquimans, but the Rebels will provide a much more difficult opponent.

Southside, on the other hand, heads home to take on a team that is also coming off a big loss. The Dixon Bulldogs will head to The Nest this Friday after opening the season by losing 53-8 to White Oak. Carrow and his team will need to regroup after the loss to the Chargers, but Friday’s game against Dixon gives the Seahawks a chance to get back on track and gain some confidence.