DURHAM — Southern Durham made an abrupt exit from the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A playoffs in 2011, a victim of its own mistakes in a 27-20 loss to Fayetteville E.E. Smith.
The loss was an unexpected ending for the Spartans, whom coach Adrian Jones believes could have made a strong playoff run.
“Our quarterback had thrown three interceptions all year and he had three in that game and he had two lost fumbles,” Jones recalled. “Five turnovers in a playoff game and we still almost overcame it.
“We sure didn’t expect to lose to E.E. Smith in the first round. But they beat us.”
The Spartans, ranked No. 19 in the N&O preseason poll, will have a new look in their spread offense this season. Leading rusher Akeem Judd and quarterback Dorian Belcher graduated after accounting for more than 4,000 yards in total offense during the 7-4 senior season.
The bulk of the offensive line is back and Jones envisions adding a power element to the spread offense. The offensive front, led by tackle Jalen Peterkin (6-foot-2, 295 pounds) and center Tyrus Page (6-2, 280), averages 285 pounds and is filled with power blockers.
“In high school, sometimes you end up with some big guys in the offensive line who aren’t outstanding players,” Jones said. “All of these guys are good offensive linemen with skills. We should be able to run downhill on some people this year and we want to take advantage of that.”
Jones developed sophomore quarterback Kendall Hinton last season. Although Belcher was a team leader and ran the offense, Hinton played in key situations to give him meaningful experience. Hinton led the Spartans on an 80-yard scoring drive against E.E. Smith.
Junior Joel Evans and sophomore Will Cameron could become principal runners and defensive back Owen Lucas III, is a probable Division I player next year.
The schedule is typically brutal, starting with trips to Greensboro Dudley (6-6) and Apex Middle Creek (10-4) and continuing with games against perennial 4A power Fayetteville Jack Britt (11-3) and South Brunswick (8-4).
Jones thinks that sort of schedule is needed to prepare the Spartans for their Sept. 14 PAC-Six 4A opener against Durham Hillside. The Hornets won the state title in 2010 and were 11-2 in 2011, including a 27-19 loss to New Bern (11-2) in the season opener and a 35-7 playoff loss to eventual 4A champion Scotland.
“Playing tough teams forces you to play your best and it forces your coaching staff to work harder, too,” Jones said. “We’ll have to work on preparing the team for big games and work on our play-calling and training.
“We have to be prepared to play well against Hillside in that first league game.”
But the winner of that matchup is expected to have a tougher time in other league games this season.
“We may have been a little watered down,” Jones said. “But I think the league is coming back. We really have a good group of coaches. As a conference, I think we’re going to be better.”