LAURINBURG — With the opening week of the high school football season finally here, it’s time to unveil the first Sanhills Athletic Conference Power Rankings.
With the creation of a new conference and the start of a new season I thought it was only appropriate to bring back the Power Rankings, which were started by former sports editor Logan Martinez.
As always, if you don’t like where I slotted your team, we can have a discussion about it via phone, e-mail, or social media — but please, leave the pitchforks at home.
Without further adieu, here are my rankings entering Week 1.
1. Scotland (14-1, 5-0 SEC)
The Scots remain in the top spot as the prevailing favorites to win the first Sandhills Athletic Conference title, after winning a record sixth straight Southeastern Conference championship. The Scotland garnered all eight of the first-place votes submitted by the media at the conference’s meeting with the coaches earlier this month.
Richard Bailey’s offense will be anchored by University of Georgia commit Zamir White and SEC Offensive Player of the Year Syheam “Smiley” McQueen, as the Scots one-two punch in the backfield.
Despite all the returning players depth is an issue for the Scots, if anyone gets hurt the pickings are slim in terms of back-ups. With a rigorous non-conference and conference schedule the Scots could rely heavily on sophomores and freshmen to fill the roster if injuries begin to pile up.
First up for Scotland: a home contest against Mallard Creek.
2. Richmond (9-4, 4-1 SEC)
This off season has brought a great deal of change to the Raiders program as former coach Mike Castellano resigned in December. The school replaced him with former Terry Sanford coach Bryan Till.
Till spend four seasons at Terry Sanford High School, where he compiled a 34-18 record and won back-to-back conference championships in 2014 and 2015.
Under Till, the Bulldogs brings with him a more run-oriented offense sprinkled in with some run-pass options. A return to their roots for the Raiders who were know for their rushing attack under former head coach Paul Hoggard.
The Raiders offensive woes kick into overdrive this season with two quarterbacks who have never thrown a varsity pass vying for the starting job. Richmond returns wide receiver Jaleen Baldwin, who received minimal touches last season and running back Dante Miller.
First up for Richmond: a home contest against Ronald Reagan.
3. Seventy-First (9-3, 5-1 Mid-South Athletic)
Seventy-First ended the 2016 season in second place behind undefeated Cape Fear in the Mid-South Athletic Conference. The Falcons are under head coach Duran McLaurin are known for their swarming defense.
Kyler Davis will return under center for Seventy-First with a year of experience under his belt. Davis is a key part of the Falcons run game along with Fabian Jones. The passing game isn’t something McLaurin uses very often, so the key to stopping Seventy-First begins and ends in the backfield.
Their leading rusher from last season, Elijah Mcfadyen had 239 carries for 2,224 yards and 33 touchdowns graduates. The second leading rusher was Jaylon Jackson with 973 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Falcons recorded 3,827 yards rushing compared to just 1,801 passing yards.
First up for Seventy-First: a home contest against Westover.
4. Pinecrest (10-3, 3-2 SEC)
The Patriots are a bit of an unknown this season after a trip to the NCHSAA 4A playoffs last year. Pinecrest lost numerous players graduation — along with their starting quarterback.
Senior Nick Pry chose to not play football his final season after he was offered a baseball scholarship to the University of North Carolina. Pry doesn’t want to risk injury and is stepping back from football to ensure he is healthy for his final season on the mound.
Pry was the field general for the Patriots finishing his junior campaign with 102 passes for 1,680 yards with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. Pry was also the Patriots leading rusher with 98 carries for 462 yards and 13 touchdowns. Pinecrest also lost University of South Carolina defensive back Jaylen Dickerson to graduation along with leading receiver Chris Owens.
Rising junior Greg Vansteen will likely take the helm for the Patriots after having four completions last season for 19 yards as Pry’s back up. Zaythan Hill will be the featured back after having 45 carries for 278 yards last season.
First up for Pinecrest: a home game against E.A. Laney.
5. Jack Britt (3-8, 1-5 Mid-South Athletic)
A storied program the Buccaneers struggled last season only winning three games to finish tied for fifth place in the Mid-South Athletic Conference with Overhills and E.E. Smith.
In the off season, Jack Britt promoted former assistant coach Brian Randolph to the head coaching position following the departure of Brian Rimpf-Randolph.
During their scrimmage, Matthew Davis, an outside linebacker for the Buccaneers, made his presence felt as he found himself involved in almost every play. Randolph is hoping to return Jack Britt to its swarming to the ball on every play defense.
On offense, Jack Britt will look to rising junior Brennan Shortridge to steer the team to a winning season. Shortridge threw for 141 yards and zero touchdowns before being sidelined with a broke collarbone.
First up for Jack Britt: a road game against South View.
6. Lumberton (4-7, 2-3 SEC)
The Pirates are led by fourth-year head coach Mike Setzer, thinks Lumberton can be successful because of versatility.
Lumberton got off to a hot start last year, dropping 40 points on Hunt in its season opener. A three-game skid followed one win and another four-game losing streak coupled with Hurricane Matthew made the Pirates season a wash.
Junior quarterback Braylon Grice returns for his third varsity season and looks to build on a 1,333 yard season with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Leading receiver Montrez Howell returns as Grice’s main target after having an 800-plus yard junior season.
First up for Lumberton: a home game against Dillon.
7. Purnell Swett (4-7, 1-4 SEC)
The Rams competed as hard as any team in the conference last season under third-year coach Jon Sherman, but continually came up just short. Sherman knows that progress for his team means finally making it back to the playoffs.
Purnell’s offensive line has size on their side, but what they make up for in girth they lack in experience. Which at times forces senior quarterback Luke Oxendine to rush passes, resulting in a high number of turnovers and incompletions. In 2016, Oxendine threw as many interceptions as he did touchdown passes.
Senior Al’Drique Thompson will lead the Rams backfield and is setting his sights on a 1,500 yards season after narrowly missing out on 1,000 yards last year.
First up for Purnell Swett: a home game against Pine Forest.
8. Hoke (2-9, 1-4 SEC)
Hoke begins the season with a leg up since they didn’t have to hire a new coach. The Bucks begin year two under head coach David Jorgensen, who led them to a two-win season.
Hoke welcomes back all-SEC wide receiver Andre Pegues, and linebacker Alex Plummer. Pegues led the Bucks last season with 18 catches for 476 yards and five touchdowns while on the defensive side of the ball Plummer had 58 solo tackles, two quarterback sacks, two interceptions and three forced fumbles.
The Bucks have big plans for rising senior quarterback Kevin Thorpe who finished the season 39 of 85 for 784 yards for nine touchdowns and five interceptions. The Bucks will return their main running back in rising senior Deazwun Campbell who had 53 carries for 234 yards and one touchdown.
First up for Hoke: The Bucks will be on the road to take on Cary.
Amber Hatten can be reached at 910-506-3170.