LAURINBURG — Seventy-First is playing with a chip on their shoulder and the Fighting Scots are defending six years of conference domination.
Either team is ready to relinquish their undefeated Sandhills Athletic Conference record — but on Friday only one team can leave Pate Stadium unbeaten.
The Falcons were picked third in the pre-season polls, behind Scotland and Richmond, something head coach Duran Mclaurin and his team have taken to heart. Seventy-First is 6-1 overall with their sole loss was a one-point loss to Cape Fear in Week 2 and are undefeated in SAC-8 play besting Pinecrest (28-14), Hoke (62-0) and Lumberton (50-14).
“Seventy-First is a great program and did really well in the conference they came from and I know Duran was disappointed he was picked third in the pre-season polls,” said Scots head coach Richard Bailey. “They’ve been using that as some serious motivation — I don’t blame them. It’s not like they were picked last, but not picked as high as Duran feels like they should have been picked and I think he’s been proven right.”
Scotland and Seventy-First have a history, being in the same conference until 2009 when the Falcons moved to the Mid-South and Scotland remained in the Southeastern Conference.
The Scots haven’t lost a conference game in six years and Bailey and his squad plan to do everything they can to keep it that way.
“They are going to have to take it from us because we’re not going to give it to them,” Bailey said. “We haven’t lost a conference game in six years, going back to 2011, even though this is a new conference we want to continue to play at the highest level in the biggest games. I think whoever wins the conference championship is going to be undefeated in the SAC-8 so it’s a must win for both of us.”
Dating back to 2006, the Fighting Scots have won seven of the last 10 meetings when the two teams. The last loss the Scots suffered to Seventy-First was a 25-0 shutout in 2008. The Scots won the next four meetings, outscoring the Falcons 99-42.
The similarities between the two teams goes deeper than their records, both Scotland and Seventy-First are power-run programs. The Scots led by University of Georgia commit Zamir White and junior Shyeam “Smiley” McQueen and the Falcons led by junior quarterback Kyler Davis and running backs Fabion Jones and Juan Maddox.
“Our teams are build kind of the same: powerful running game, play-action passing, aggressive defenses that tackle and run well and build to stop the run,” said Bailey. “It’s going to be a test of wills on Friday. They are the best opponent in conference we’ve played and arguably the best team outside Mallard Creek that we’ve played all year.”
So far this season, Davis has 58 passes for 1,095 yards with 10 touchdowns and one interception. The Falcons junior QB also has 34 carries for 358 yards and three touchdowns.
The Falcons run game is led by Jones with 109 carries for 727 yards and nine touchdowns. As an apples-to-apples comparison, White has 78 carries for 1,100 yards and 18 touchdowns for the Scots.
The leading receiver for the Falcons is senior Reggie Bryant who has 38 catches for 862 yards and seven touchdowns.
““He is as good as wide receiver as we’ve seen all year,” said Bailey. “We’re going to have to be cognoscente of where he’s at but you can’t double cover him all the time and stop the run effectively — it’s just not possible. We’re going to have to hold up in our one-on-one match-ups and find a way to stop him.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Seventy-First likes to run a 3-3 stack, which consists of three down linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs. The Falcons crowd the line of scrimmage in order to force teams into throwing the ball because they can’t get any yardage on the crowd — a tactic teams try to use against the Scots often.
“Everyone that plays us tries to make us do that but we threw the ball effectively last week,” said Bailey. “We’re capable of throwing the ball and it was good for Warren (Bell)’s confidence but we’re always going to try and run the ball — that’s who we are and it’s what we’re good at.”
The Scots offensive line gets a boost this week with the return of senior Darrian Reeves who had surgery on a torn meniscus earlier in the season.
“Darrian will start and play as much as he can. Isaiah McPhatter has played all year for us and he can do a great job coming in to let Darrian rest if need be,” Bailey said. “Injuries believe it or not in the beginning of the year help you create depth.”
Senior Ian Spagler will return to his position at tight end and be joined on the outside by fellow seniors Desmond Davis and Khalil Smith who will serve as slot receivers. Junior Joseph McKoy will continue to take snaps in the backfield for the Scots behind White, Smith and quarterback Warren Bell.
“Joseph McKoy has come on in Smiley’s absence and really done some good things,” said Bailey. “Everyone is figuring out their role. Right now I don’t have Smiley so we’re going to have to play a certain way and when we get Smiley back we’ll readjust.”
Bailey knows Friday’s game has serious ramifications in the SAC-8 no matter who wins, he also knows that Seventy-First is looking to check another powerhouse off their list after beating Pinecrest to work their way to the top of the conference.
“They are checking some boxes I’m sure, but we have those same boxes and we have those same goals. Hype is great in pre-game but we’ll see what happens when the ball gets kicked off,” said Bailey. “It’s the team that makes the fewest mistakes that usually wins the game.”
Fans are encourage to get to Pate Stadium early on Friday because a large crowd is expected. Kick off is set for 7:30 p.m.
Amber Hatten can be reached at 910-506-3170.