LAURINBURG — Scotland continues to practice and prepare for its shot at a state championship on Saturday. The Scots (15-0) will face Dudley (15-0) at 3 p.m. Saturday for the Class 4A title. Here are three key areas that Scotland will be focusing on when they attempt to take home a second championship in three seasons.
Avoid turning the ball over
Scotland will likely face something it has not seen all season Saturday — rain. The forecast for Saturday afternoon and night calls for almost constant rain in addition to low temperatures. The Scots have not played a game in the rain this season. The opener against South View was delayed for over an hour due to lightning, and the game against Lumberton was moved up a day to avoid a rainstorm, but those were the only weather events experienced by the Scots this season.
Rain, and more specifically a wet football, can often lead to turnovers, something that Scotland will have to avoid. When Scotland’s offense has been stopped this season, it has been from turnovers almost as often as it has been from the opposing defense. The Scots have limited their turnovers for most of the season, but the bug has struck in bunches a few times.
Scotland lost five fumbles in the third-round playoff game against Knightdale, but was still able to win 24-17 after quarterback Jaylend Ratliffe ran in for a touchdown with 16 seconds to play. Hoke County benefited from turnovers when they came to Pate Stadium on Oct. 25. The Scots lost three fumbles early in that game to spot the Bucks 17 points. However, Scotland was still able to win that game 38-24. The only other game where turnovers played a significant factor against the Scots came in the third game of the year, in Marlboro County. The Bulldogs were not able to score on Scotland’s defense in that game, but returned a fumble for a score. Their other touchdown was a returned kickoff. The Scots also lost the ball going into the end zone in that game, but came out with a 21-14 victory. Winning while losing the turnover battle will be a much taller task in the championship game.
Start in good field position
Dudley’s defense has been stellar this season, only allowing 6.2 points per game to opponents in the regular season. They have yet to face an offense of Scotland’s caliber, but the Scots will still be facing one of their toughest tests of the year when they line up Saturday.
If there’s one area where Dudley is not as strong, it is on special teams. There the kicking game has the potential to set Scotland up in good starting field position. Trejon Monley has been a dangerous return man all season for Scotland, and always has the potential to return a kickoff or punt to the end zone whenever he gets a chance to run one back. Greenville Rose tried to avoid Monley last Friday by kicking it short on kickoffs, but Robert McKoy had no problem filling in. McKoy ran the kick back into Rose’s territory on the first few kickoffs to get Scotland’s offense off to a fast start. Field position and special teams will be even more important Saturday against Dudley’s defense.
“We’ve got a lot of good options back there when they kick to us. Hopefully we can play field position and make some plays in special teams to set up some easy scores,” Scotland coach Richard Bailey said.
Keep Dudley’s offense off the field
On his radio show on WLNC Monday night, Bailey said it is important that his defense does not allow any one or two play drives from Dudley. The Panthers are led at quarterback by star player Emmanuel Moseley, who is capable of exploding for big plays. Dudley is known for its strong defense, but the offense is more than capable of putting up points, averaging 34.2 points per game this season. Dudley will likely put up points on Scotland Saturday, but the Scots defense will have to keep the fast scoring drives in check.