Three months into high school football season, Darius Robinson isn’t just preparing his Southern Durham Spartans for the Cleveland Rams this Friday night.
He’s looking trying to keep it light.
“We started in mid-June. Now, we’re in Thanksgiving,” said Robinson after the Spartans defeated Orange 17-14 last Friday night to advance to the 3AA quarterfinals. “You kind of mentally get worn down. I try to do things to be creative and make it fun.”
Sometimes that’s ordering pizza to go with film study.
“We let the kids be them,” said Robinson. “At this point in time, you can’t do too much more. It’s hard to get them any stronger than they are now.”
By now, Southern playing the day after Thanksgiving is as much a tradition as the Detroit Lions playing the day of.
This Friday’s game at Cleveland will be the sixth time in nine years Southern has made the third round of the state playoffs (including three years as a 4A school), and ninth since 2000. The crowning achievement came in 2013, when quarterback Kendall Hinton led the Spartans to the 3AA state championship in a 38-31 victory against Crest.
Keeping it light may be why this year’s team, much like that 2013 crew, is never out of a ball game.
In last week’s second round, Orange rallied from a 10-0 deficit with two touchdowns in less than four minutes to take a 14-10 lead with 4:10 remaining in the game. Southern quarterback Jalen Greene responded by converting two 3rd-and-10 situations on the subsequent drive, running for 10 yards on the first and throwing to Jordan Mackins for a 22-yard gain on the other.
It led to a trick play with running back Brown throwing to Kaleb Barfield for a 32-yard game-winning touchdown pass. It was Brown’s third pass of the year.
The youth of the Spartans sometimes works in its favor in moments like that.
“(Greene) hasn’t been in pressure situations,” Robinson said. “But when he needs to get a play, he knows what he has to do.”
Southern has defeated conference rivals Orange and Chapel Hill on its way to this Friday’s matchup with the Rams, which may provide a good omen. The 2013 state championship team defeated three conference foes – Chapel Hill, Orange and Cardinal Gibbons (then in the Big 8) – on its way to the title.
Last week’s victory over Orange was a grueling one which ended with a show of respect between two sides that have had contentious moments. The Panthers’ Bryse Wilson, who ran for 228 yards to pass 1,000 on the season, came over to embrace Robinson as he spoke with reporters.
“Go win it again,” Wilson told Robinson.
Through practice, preparation and pizza, that’s what Southern’s mission will be on Friday night.