Winning the 2013 3AA state championship seems like forever ago to Southern Durham’s football players, and the Spartans’ desire to win another crown has propelled them to the N.C. High School Athletic Association East regional final.
When Southern squares off against Northern Guilford this Friday night with a spot in the 3AA title game on the line, the Spartans will be looking at a team from the same ilk: a winning tradition. Northern Guilford had never lost more than three games in a season before this year, but the Nighthawks (10-4) are peaking at the right time.
Southern coach Darius Robinson will be looking to his secondary to slow down the defending 3AA state champions.
“They’re huge because when we go against Northern Guilford next week, they’re pretty much a mirror of us,” Robinson said. “We’ve got to be smart, we’ve got to understand how to take away routes that they want to run and the situations.”
Our secondary is by far the best that I’ve been around since I’ve been here. We had a great secondary last year but these guys have stepped up.”
Southern Durham coach Darius Robinson
In the Spartans’ third round win over Cleveland, the last line of the Southern defense came up huge and they will need to do so again facing a Northern Guilford team that is averaging 34.6 points per game in its last seven contests.
Albert Teet stepped up to make some big plays, coming up with what turned out to be a game-clinching interception as the Spartans held the prolific Rams offense to it lowest postseason offensive output since 2012.
Teet leads the team with four picks for the season while teammates Kaleb Barfield, Montrel Cooper, Keywon Hayes and Jaleel Scroggins all have two interceptions.
Entering the playoffs, Northern Guilford had thrown 23 interceptions and the Spartans will hope to add to that total.
Hayes, who plays strong safety but who also came on in relief at quarterback last week, credits his unit’s cohesion and familiarity with each other as being keys for what makes the secondary so effective.
“We play together; we’re like family,” Hayes said. “We know how each other plays and what each and every one can do.”
The 6-foot-3 Cooper covers sideline to sideline at safety. Scroggins’ versatility at linebacker allows him to play coverage or come up and stop the run; he leads a hard-hitting defensive unit with 89 tackles on the year.
Barfield, Southern’s most experienced defensive back, does not shy away from contact. He had six tackles against Cleveland.
With plenty of playmakers at his disposal, Robinson has faith in the defensive backfield.
“Everyone is so competitive and they’re so hungry so it’s hard to keep them in a situation where they can be patient because they always want to be the person to make the play,” said Robinson. “Our secondary is by far the best that I’ve been around since I’ve been here. We had a great secondary last year but these guys have stepped up.”
Hayes and Teet will possibly have chances to contribute in other phases of the game as well Friday night as Northern Guilford comes to town.
Teet returned one punt 49 yards for a touchdown against Cleveland and another one 41 yards to set up the Spartans with a first-and-goal on Southern’s first touchdown.
Hayes came on for an injured Jalen Greene at quarterback and his 84-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Russell all but sealed the game, leading to yet another “final four” appearance for the Spartans.
“We’ve just got to ball out,” said Teet. “It feels great to go to the final four again but I know we’ve just got to work hard and push through.”
It’s that hard work, coupled with a feeling that it’s “us against the world” that has fueled this year’s Spartan squad. Southern was never ranked in the AP poll this year, but is one of the last four teams standing.
“We’re hungry and we’re ready to get (the title),” said Hayes. “We’re hungry because we don’t get respect.
“Last year, we didn’t get it. To help my boys out who went off to college, we’re going to bring it back to Durham for them.”
NCHSAA football playoff pairings
All times are 7:30 p.m.
1-Middle Creek vs 6-Page
1-East Forsyth vs 6-Mallard Creek
2-New Hanover vs 5. J.H. Rose
1-Dudley vs 3-Charlotte Catholic
3-Southern Durham vs 13-Northern Guilford
1-Concord vs 2-Crest
1-Eastern Alamance vs 3-Rocky Mount
2-South Point vs 8-Kings Mountain
2-Bunn vs 4-Clinton
1-Monroe vs 2-East Lincoln
1-Kinston vs 2-SouthWest Edgecombe
1-Shelby vs 6-Lincolnton
1-Wallace-Rose Hill vs 3-James Kenan
4-Mitchell County vs 10-Walkertown
1-Plymouth vs 2-Southside
1-Community School of Davidson vs 2-Robbinsville