Southern Durham has ascended into a state power in football. The Spartans have the most trips to the third round of any Triangle football program since 2000, scores of players playing at Division I colleges and a state championship.
But the way Southern Durham football coach Darius Robinson tells it, this year’s players were feeling slighted everywhere they turned.
They faced on-field adversity in close losses, negative comments made about their school and program and an off-field lack of attention, as if the previous two years and a 27-3 overall record no longer meant anything.
Southern’s mentality became its motto: “Southern Durham vs. Everybody.”
“Our kids feel like, ‘Well coach, what did I do wrong?’ . . . They said ‘It feels like everybody is against us,’” Robinson said. “And (the coaches) said ‘If you feel that way, why don’t you do something about it?’”
The slogan may have never gotten started if the team had a few more points here and there. The Spartans (12-3) lost their three games by four points combined.
Southern opened the season with a surprising 22-21 loss at Fayetteville’s E.E. Smith on a late touchdown and two-point conversion. Three weeks later, the Spartans again lost by one point to a 4A team, falling 27-26 to Wakefield.
At 2-2 overall, Southern slipped out of the consciousness of many AP voters. The Spartans were not ranked all year. A late 28-26 loss to Northwood was the final blow.
Spartans players took note when Orange, the team Southern beat for the Big 8 Conference’s top seed in Week 6, started showing up in the AP top 10. Orange had a better overall record – and Robinson told his team that – but the players grew determined to prove it wrong.
“It was kind of a way to get everybody focused,” Robinson said. “The way they took (the ranking) was ‘No, we’re better than everybody above us and we’re going to prove it.”
Off the field, Robinson had his team focus on rising above negative comments.
“The way you get respect is to first win games and then to win in the classroom,” he said.
And so the Spartans took on everybody – and everybody’s been losing.
Southern has won its last six games – the last five have been either off-campus due to poor field conditions or on the road – going into Saturday’s N.C. High School Athletic Association 3AA football championship against Crest High from Boiling Springs.
“Southern vs. Everybody” is an adventure in dealing with adversity. Playing time concerns, negative comments, close losses, lack of statewide respect, field conditions that are have been so bad that practices were moved inside even on sunny days: and now a new twist.
The Spartans played 3AA defending champ Northern Guilford without starting quarterback Jalen Greene. Running back Jordon Brown took over, and the Spartans won 19-15.
“We’ve experienced everything,” Robinson said.
It’s good Southern has its mentality, because Crest (15-0) has had this game circled for awhile.
The Chargers have won 31 straight games since falling to Southern 38-31 in the 2013 3AA championship. Greene is out again for Southern, making Crest the favorite.
The Spartans answer Crest’s motivation with their own trademark slogan as they take on “everybody” one more time.
“We still (have) kind of a chip on our shoulder because we’re stated as the underdog against Crest,” Robinson said. “We’ve got a lot to prove.”
NCHSAA FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
The 102nd N.C. High School Athletic Association football championships will have eight championship games at three sites: UNC, Wake Forest and N.C. State. Tickets are $10.
3A title, Friday at UNC: Rocky Mount Gryphons (13-2) vs. South Point Red Raiders (13-2), 7:35 p.m.
1AA title, Saturday at Wake Forest: Wallace-Rose Hill Bulldogs (14-1) vs. Mitchell County Mountaineers (14-1), 12:05 p.m.
1A title, Saturday at Wake Forest: Plymouth Vikings (13-2) vs. Robbinsville Black Knights (12-2), 4:05 p.m.
4A title, Saturday at Wake Forest: J.H. Rose Rampants (12-2) vs. Charlotte Catholic Cougars (14-0), 8:05 p.m.
4AA title, Saturday at N.C. State: Page Pirates (13-2) vs. Mallard Creek Mavericks (13-2), 12:05 p.m.
2A title, Saturday at Wake Forest: Kinston Vikings (15-0) vs. Shelby Golden Lions (14-1), 4:05 p.m.
2AA title, Saturday at Wake Forest: Bunn Wildcats (13-2) vs. Monroe Redhawks (15-0), 8:05 p.m.
3AA title, Saturday at UNC: Southern Durham Spartans (12-3) vs. Crest Chargers (15-0), 12:05 p.m.