LAURINBURG — Football, like most sports, is a game of rhythm and repetition. Practice at a certain time every day, run these plays now, then those. Every week the pattern is more or less the same, with a few variations depending on the upcoming game. The routine and familiarity is something all athletes and coaches seem to crave, and it is something that Scotland’s coaches have had to work hard to maintain this week.
The buildup to the Class 4A championship game against Dudley Saturday has been anything but routine, at least off the field. The coaching staff and football program has seen interest in the team explode from all over the state as they are one of the final teams left playing.
Scotland coach Richard Bailey coached in three championship games —2004, 2008 and 2009 — with Jack Britt. He said the fact that he has been through the intense week before the final a few times means he knows what to expect and can help his team stay focused.
“I’ve been through it before. And the level of interest at Scotland is even greater, but that’s a good thing. The biggest thing this week is trying to keep normalcy when it’s not a normal week. There is a lot at stake and a lot going on but we try to keep it as normal as we can for the kids,” Bailey said.
In addition to media requests, press conferences in Raleigh and travel arrangements, college recruiters have also been stopping by to meet with those players they are interested in now that most of their seasons are finished.
The Scots will encounter two other unfamiliar circumstances at Carter-Finley Stadium Saturday. The game is scheduled for a 3 p.m. kickoff, meaning it will be daylight for a good portion of the game. Every game up to this point has started at 7:30 p.m. on a Friday. That, and rain. Precipitation is almost a certainty for Saturday, and it will be the first game Scotland has had to play in the rain this season. The only close call this year came against Lumberton, but that game was moved to a Thursday to avoid the bad weather.
Bailey said there isn’t really a way to prepare for a rain-soaked game.
“You just hope the kids deal with it. We’ve practiced in the rain a few times this year,” Bailey said.
Scotland will have to avoid losing the ball against a tough Dudley defense that is already a challenge to score against. The Panthers are allowing just seven points per game to opposing teams this season.
“We’re going to have to mix it up and find ways to get matchups we like. They haven’t given up a lot of points but hopefully they haven’t faced an offense like ours. They probably haven’t because we have one of the best offenses in the state when it comes to points scored.,” Bailey said.
The Scots have put up 44.8 points per game this season, led by junior quarterback Jaylend Ratliffe. Ratliffe has rushed for 2,055 yards and 36 touchdowns this season, while throwing for 1,756 yards and 16 scores. Receivers Ty McLaurin and Jalen Tyson each have five touchdowns, and two-way player Trejon Monley has four of his own, and played a large role in Scotland’s win over Greenville Rose last Friday.
Scotland is a run-first team, but may have to go the pass to create scoring chances against the defense. The key, Bailey said, will be to create matchups where the skill players have the chance to beat their man.
“We’re going to hopefully make them play the whole field, that’s the biggest thing. Spread them out and make them play the whole field, make them tackle in space,” Bailey said. “We try to do that with everybody, but even more so with a team like this because they are physical and they want everything to be in there tight if they can.”
Dudley’s offense is very similar to Scotland’s, although they occasionally run a few different formations. Like the Scots, the Panthers operate primarily out of the shotgun formation and run a spread offense. Emmanuel Moseley is the star player at both quarterback and cornerback. Like Ratliffe, he is a dual-threat player, as he has thrown for 1,243 yards and picked up 1,357 on the ground.
Dudley’s other main weapon on offense is Darius Graves, who plays wide receiver and running back. He has picked up 617 yards on the ground and over 400 through the air for 28 total touchdowns. While the Panthers are a spread team, they have also been known to line up in the wishbone formation, presenting another test for Scotland’s defense.
Saturday’s game is scheduled for a 3 p.m. kickoff. Tickets are $10 at the gate, and there is also a parking fee.