The prep football season is a little more than a third of the way through the regular season, but two area football programs have done something for the first time in school history. Both South Johnston and Corinth Holders are unbeaten through their first four encounters.
Yet, they’re both still more than two weeks away from the start of conference play where the first championship chases are decided and those all-important playoff fates are determined.
The Trojans will get another strong test against Fayetteville Cape Fear (3-1) Friday night, while the Pirates play on the road for the first time as a heavy favorite against C.B. Aycock (2-2).
Even with the production both teams have had on offense and strong stretches of defensive play, there are things that need to get better.
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In particular coming out of Week 4, it’s defensive play in the second half that both teams are eyeing.
South Johnston saw a two-touchdown lead evaporate in the final seconds against Southern Nash before winning in overtime.
Said South coach Hunter Jenks: “We have to finish games off and not let people hang around.”
Corinth Holders led East Wake by three touchdowns in the second half only to let big plays get the Warriors back in the game.
Said Pirate coach Bubba Williams: “To be what we want to be we’re going to have to do a lot better job of playing the second half.”
North Johnston has had a new run of success as well, starting the season 3-1 and is eyeing a potential fourth win if the Panthers can get by Smithfield-Selma on Friday night.
The positives for the Pirates, Trojans and many of the other area teams far outweigh the negatives, of course. Trying to learn how to finish games with big leads is a problem every team would like to have.
Coaches don’t want the accomplishments of the past sway their team’s approach one way or the other.
“(Our goal remains the same:) come out next week and try to win that week,” Williams said. “Be 1-0 every week.”
When 2-2 isn’t so bad
Cleveland coach Scott Riley says he likes the tough schedule the Rams have been playing, even though at 2-2 they don’t have a flashy record.
The school defied the odds to become a 3A football power even before it had a senior class, and looks poised to keep it up.
The Rams dispatched the two 4A teams in Johnston County - Clayton and West Johnston - with big second halves, and were very competitive in their live TV game with Garner and in Friday’s 36-29 home loss to unbeaten Fuquay-Varina. They haven’t played a team below the 4A level yet. (That changes when they host Fayetteville Terry Sanford on Friday night.)
Cleveland is averaging 34 points a game behind double-threat junior quarterback Caiden Norman, who scored three TDs against the Bengals and completed 18 of his first 20 passes en route to a 319-yard game. But the defense can still be tighter.
“We slowed the tempo and didn’t give Fuquay-Varina the big plays in the second half,” Riley said. “But we’ve still got to tackle better.”
Riley said the Rams are playing the killer early schedule to get ready for playoff time and for big conference rivalry games against Corinth Holders and South Johnston. Those should be fun to watch.
“The bigger the atmosphere and the bigger the game, the more it’s like the playoffs,” Riley said. “We’re seeing really good teams right now like we’re going to see later in the season. And if you win a conference championship, you’re going to get seeded above people who were 9-1 and came in second.”
Greater Neuse play starts
Greater Neuse River 4A Conference play starts on Friday night with rivals Southeast Raleigh and Garner squaring off among others.
Southeast has played one of the toughest schedules in the state so far and features N.C. State recruit Dylan Parham at quarterback. Parham has a handful of offensive ball handlers who are equally welcome running or catching the ball. The key for Garner’s defense is making sure its linebackers and secondary don’t lose track of somebody at the wrong time.
The Trojans are expected to have running back Collin Eaddy (141 yards per game average) after he missed the win over Leesville Road.
West Johnston is hoping to end its three-game skid, but will face a test from a Rolesville team playing with a senior class for the first time this season. The Rams are 2-2 this year.
In search of better air travel
Though they have had different types of starts to the season, both North Johnston (3-1) and Princeton (0-3) will look to achieve a more perfect balance on offense to compliment each of their strong rushing attacks moving forward.
In the Panthers’ win over their rival last week, Dallas Krob threw for 94 yards on 5 of 9 passing and sophomore Trey Whitley threw one pass on the night as well: a 24-yard touchdown strike to Holden Hales.
The passing attack forced Princeton to have to pay more attention to that facet of the Panthers’ attack, allowing more room for running backs A.J. Edwards and Treshawn McPhatter in which to operate.
“It was very important,” Krob said of the passing game starting to click. “I guess they must have heard about A.J. (Edwards) and they were plugging up the holes so we used the passing game to spread them out a bit.”
First-year Princeton coach Travis Gaster is trying to find the right formula to avoid spreading a couple of key pieces on his team too thin.
Cameron Jackson and Adrian Whack play on both sides of the ball and are key to the Bulldogs’ success on offense.
Jackson played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, punter and kick returner while Whack is a hard-hitting defensive lineman in addition to being the team’s powerful tailback, tight end and usual kick off specialist.
“We play a lot of guys both ways and we get drained,” Gaster said. “We’re trying to find the right balance to make sure that they’re very good at one position and then plug them in where we can to help us at other positions.”
Looking Back at Some Top Performances from Week 4
Brock Swackhammer, Clayton: He helped pick up the slack when teammate Blake Joyner went down with an injury. He rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown in a 48-0 win over Smithfield-Selma.
Garner’s Defense: The Trojans held Leesville Road to 93 total yards in a 24-10 win. The Pride’s only touchdown on the night came on an interception return.
Caiden Norman, Cleveland: He completed 23 of 34 passes for 319 yards, also rushing for 42 yards and three touchdowns in a loss to unbeaten Fuquay-Varina.
Howard Watson, Corinth Holders: He was the most consistent producer on a night when both the Pirates and East Wake had rough spots offensively, especially in the second half. Watson twice converted third-and-10 or more yards for touchdown runs (once from 36 out and once from 51 out). His 287 yards broke his own school record in a 34-21 Pirate win.
Hunter Moore, North Johnston: Moore came up huge for the Panthers in a win over Princeton. In the third quarter, his strip of the ball and 65-yard return for a touchdown put some distance between the Panthers and the Bulldogs. The middle linebacker then helped seal the game in the fourth quarter with an interception.
Jeffery Onyegbule, Southeast Raleigh: The junior running back carried 10 times for 142 yards and three TDs on runs of 48, 3 and 2 in a big win over Chapel Hill.
Caeleb Robinson, South Johnston: He scored on touchdown runs of 13 and 28 yards in regulation and turned what looked like a loss into the game-winning 2-yard touchdown in overtime against Southern Nash.
Your Local Schools’ Student Cheering Section: Every section of crazies, rowdies, loonies, etc. I heard of Friday night donned red, white and blue as their colors or “American Pride” as their theme on Friday night. Fourteen years from the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001, it was nice to see the students — either on their own or with help from an advisor — go with that theme to remember those innocent lives lost.
The pain of that day hopefully will never be matched again and as the years go by, we’re not too far away from having high schools full of students who weren’t born when the attacks happened. Helping the next generation understand the impact that day had on everything after it will be their job in the not too distant future.
The moments of silence and U.S. flags that dotted high school stadiums across the area Friday night were a great statement.
Michael Held, Mike Potter and Bill Woodward contributed.
Week 5: Friday’s Area Games
7 p.m. kicks: Southeast Raleigh (1-3) at Garner (3-1); East Wake (2-2) at Clayton (1-3); Rolesville (2-2) at West Johnston (1-3); Corinth Holders (4-0) at C.B. Aycock (2-2); Wake Christian (3-1) at Hobbton (2-2)
7:30 p.m. kicks: Clinton Union (2-1) at Princeton (0-3); Fayetteville Cape Fear (3-1) at South Johnston (4-0); North Johnston (3-1) at Smithfield-Selma (0-4); Fayetteville Terry Sanford (3-1) at Cleveland (2-2), 7:30