LAURINBURG — The Sandhills Athletic Conference combines the region’s football powerhouses into a seemingly unstoppable force.
The new-look conference features the same six teams from the former Southeastern Conference, but adds Jack Britt and Seventy-First this year to put two more teams in a mix that features recent football giants like Scotland, Richmond and Pinecrest.
In order to familiarize fans with the inner workings of the conference, here is a break down of how each of the teams performed last season, how they stacked up against each other and a look ahead to the 2017 season.
The Scots finished the 2016 season 14-1 overall and 5-0 in the SEC to secure their sixth straight Southeastern Conference championship.
Richard Bailey’s team returns a strong linebacking corps, led by all-conference linebackers Javon Ratliffe and Chris Williams. Desmond Davis and Warren Bell have been sharing time during practices at the quarterback position — which still appears to be very much up for grabs. Davis took snaps as the Scots back-up quarterback last season. Bell was the starting quarterback at Westover High School last season before transferring to Scotland last month.
The Scots offense will be anchored by University of Georgia commit Zamir White and SEC Offensive Player of the Year Syheam “Smiley” McQueen, who will be the Scots one-two punch in the backfield.
Aside from defeating every former SEC team, the Scots also topped Jack Britt last season 36-6 in Week 4. Scotland and Seventy-First did not meet on the gridiron in 2016, but the two schools did compete against each other in volleyball, soccer, tennis and cross country.
The Patriots finished 10-3 overall (3-2 in the SEC) in 2016 and advanced to the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs, but lost key players to graduation.
The biggest hit for Pinecrest comes at the quarterback position as senior Nick Pry won’t play his final season under center. Pry was offered a baseball scholarship to the University of North Carolina and is stepping back from football to ensure he is healthy for his final season on the mound.
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
Pinecrest was eliminated in the second round of the 4AA playoffs to Heritage, 25-21. The only two conference losses the Patriots were handed came from Scotland and Richmond after defeating Purnell, Hoke and Lumberton.
Seventy-First ended the 2016 season with a 9-3 overall record and 5-1 in the Mid-South Athletic Conference finishing in second place behind undefeated Cape Fear.
The Falcons return starting quarterback Kyler Davis, a rising junior, who threw for 1,716 yards, 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Davis also rushed for an additional four touchdowns. Returning in the backfield is rising senior Jaylon Jackson, who will step into the shoes of recent graduate Elijah Mcfayden.
In the passing game, Seventy-First returns its leading receiver in rising senior Reggie Bryant. The defensive side took a hit due to graduation, but the Falcons return defensive end Bryson Hamilton and defensive lineman Jamarques Carr.
On the road to a playoff appearance, Seventy-First defeated new conference opponents Hoke, Lumberton and Jack Britt before falling to Southeast Raleigh in the first round of the 4A playoffs, 21-14.
Richmond finished 9-4 overall and 4-1 in SEC play under former head coach Mike Castellano. In the off season, the Raiders hired Bryan Till to take the helm.
Graduation hit the Raiders hard as they lost all-conference selections in quarterback Leon Zeigler, running back Demontre Bennett, linebackers Deandre and Savion Streeter and defensive backs Steven Jones and Shyheim Wall.
Richmond’s sole conference loss came to Scotland in a winner-take-all finale. The team’s other loss came in the second round of the 4AA playoffs in a road game against Garner Magnet, 54-37.
The Pirates are led by Mike Setzer, who enters his fourth season with the program.
Lumberton got off to a hot start last year, blanking Hunt 40-0 in its season opener before hitting a three-game skid. The Pirates finished 4-7 (2-3 in the SEC) the season was almost a wash after Hurricane Matthew devastated the city and left the field and high school under water.
Setzer and his team finished the season strong with back-to-back conference wins over Purnell and Hoke. The Pirates welcome back rising junior Braylan Grice under center, for his third varsity season, after a 1,334 yard sophomore season. All-conference running back Montrez Howell will return for his season year in the backfield after an 800-plus yard 2016 campaign. Senior All-SEC linebacker Taevion Stehpenson will lead the Pirates linebackers.
Lumberton faltered last season against Seventy-First, Pinecrest, Richmond and Scotland before ending the season with wins over Purnell and Hoke.
The Buccaneers struggled last season finishing 3-8 overall and 1-5 in the Mid-South Athletic Conference. The 1-5 mark tied them for fifth place in the 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.
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. Serving as a back-up quarterback last season, Kennique Bonner-Steward will return to the backfield along with Cornell Raynor.
The Buccaneers missed the 4A playoffs last season after ending their 2016 campaign on a three-game losing streak. Jack Britt suffered losses to Scotland, Purnell Swett, Seventy-First but narrowly defeated Hoke, 21-20.
The Rams struggled last season under second-year head coach Jon Sherman finishing 3-8 overall and 0-5 in SEC play.
Rising senior Luke Oxendine returns under center for Purnell Swett after a 1,208 yard passing season in 2016 with eight touchdowns. The Rams return all-conference running back Al’drique Thompson and rising junior Chandler Brayboy will anchor the receiving corps.
On the defensive side of the ball, Purnell returns Kalan Locklear, Dakota Locklear and Dylan Lowry. The Rams secondary appeared to be much improved during summer 7-on-7 drills.
One of Purnell’s three wins came against Jack Britt, 23-8 during Week 5 before starting conference play and losing all five of those games.
Led by second-year coach David Jorgensen, the Bucks recovered from a win-less 2015 campaign under former head coach Tom Paris, in fifth place in the conference with a with a 2-9 overall record and 1-4 in the SEC.
Hoke welcomes back All-SEC wide receiver Andre Pegues and linebacker Alex Plummer. The Bucks also return starting quarterback Kevin Thorpe who finished the season 39 of 85 for 784 yards for nine touchdowns and five interceptions. Running back Deazwun Campbell returns for his senior season.
The Bucks lone conference win came over Purnell, 21-17, in Week 9. The teams remaining conference games were losses along with falling to Jack Britt and Seventy-First.