The Two Rivers 3A Conference is likely to feature a tightly grouped six-pack of teams this fall.
“We’re in a situation now where we’ve got a lot of familiarity and close ties with the county schools: Cleveland, South Johnston and Smithfield-Selma,” Corinth Holders coach Barry Honeycutt said. “The teams like Triton and Western Harnett, we’re a little more familiar with them now, too.”
The league’s top two teams – Triton (9-3 overall, 4-1 conference in 2013) and Cleveland (9-4, 5-0) – are going through coaching changes, but Ben Penny at Triton and Scott Riley at Cleveland took over veteran staffs, didn’t make many scheme changes and return strong lineups.
The Hawks (conference champions in 2011 and 2012 in the Eastern Carolina 3A) and Cleveland (2013 Two Rivers 3A champs) should be in the middle of the championship race.
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Corinth Holders could have a proficient offense with senior quarterback Cole Sakowski and receivers Tony Kirkwood and Dymon Walker. Sakowski had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of better than 3-to-1 last year and threw for nearly 3,000 yards.
Defensively, the Pirates (7-5, 2-3) need to develop inexperienced players at defensive end and in the secondary.
South Johnston (2-9, 1-4) also has a new coach, former assistant Hunter Jenks. The Trojans will be young but could be in the middle of the race for the guaranteed playoff spots.
Western Harnett (4-8, 2-3) returns more than half of its starters. The Eagles, whose district includes a large number of military families, constantly battle losing players to moves. Last year’s team had 13 starters move out of state.
“We’re still better than we were last year, even losing 13 guys,” said coach Larry Brock. “We’ve lost three already (to moves) this summer, but we’re used to dealing with it.”
The Eagles shifted senior linebacker Austin Wright to quarterback and starting guard Kaleb Burrell to tight end. Offensively, Western Harnett will still be ground-based from the wing-T formation.
The offensive and defensive lines should be an area of strength with multiple two-year starters back.
Smithfield-Selma (1-10, 1-4), which halted a 40-game losing streak with its season-ending win against South Johnston last season, has a promising group of veteran offensive and defensive linemen featuring returning starters Kodi Satterfield (6-foot-4, 240 pounds), John Gibbons (6-3, 230), Erick Alvarado and John Lucas (6-2, 245).
“Cleveland is going to be fast, Triton is going to be huge, Corinth Holders is going to be fundamentally sound,” said Smithfield-Selma coach David Lawhon. “Western Harnett keeps getting better. There will be no surprises from the standpoint of you know every team has an outstanding coaching staff and will be ready to play each night out.”