LAURINBURG — The Fighting Scots won’t be testing the waters in their first game of the 2017 season — they are jumping head first into the deep end.
Two of the top football programs in the state — Scotland and Mallard Creek — kick off at 7:30 p.m. tonight inside Pate Stadium. Starting the year with such a formidable opponent isn’t what Scots coach Richard Bailey would consider ideal, but he knows it will be a good measuring stick.
“In a game like this it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that it’s a non-conference game, it’s essentially meaningless other than helping us prepare for conference play and to evaluate our players,” he said. “I wish we could evaluate ourselves against someone a little less formidable, but we’ll know exactly where we stand in the state.”
Mallard Creek lost in the second round of the 4AA NCHSAA playoffs last season to David W. Butler, 42-28. The Mavericks ended their season 9-3 overall and 5-1 in the MeCKa Conference behind Zebulon B. Vance.
It’s a restocking year for Mallard Creek as junior Jadyn Washington takes the helm after having mop-up duty last season. Senior tight end Knowledge Gainey will become an integral part Mallard Creek’s offense along with transfer Lovelle Williams Jr. at wide receiver.
The Mavericks front seven on the offensive line is really the team’s strong suit, led by Division I recruit Jordan Davis, No. 99. Davis is 6-foot-6-inches tall and weighs in at 315 pounds.
“They are going to look the part, they are big on the offensive and defensive line and obviously they have enough skill guys to compete with anybody,” said Bailey. “All their kids look like they are supposed to look. Their offensive linemen look like they could go play in college tomorrow. They don’t have any kid out on the field that doesn’t look the part and they are going to be well coached.”
Bailey knows that despite Mallard Creek’s intimidating size, that his boys in blue aren’t slouches by any stretch of the imagination.
Senior Tim Williams will anchor the offensive line at 6-foot-4-inches tall and weights in at 250 pounds, he will be flanked by fellow senior Garrett Beach, 6-foot-2-inches, 320 pounds, and Hunter Sheppard, 6-foot-1-inch, 225 pounds.
“After being around them day-in and day-out you get used to them, but our offensive linemen look the part,” said Bailey. “Our receivers look like receivers they are 6-foot 2-inch and can run and make plays. Obviously our running backs looks as good as anybodys. We played teams that had some big guys, that doesn’t mean they were great players — they were just big guys.”
There is another factor that neither juggernaut has any control over, but could be a deciding factor in tonight’s game — the heat. If the heat index gets to a dangerous level, trainers must inform the officiating crew and play will be stopped to give each team a five-minute water break.
With the expected heat and humidity, at least one water break per quarter will most likely be required. The temperature is predicted to be 83 degrees at kick off with a 50 percent chance of rain.
“This time of year the officials normally do one water break a quarter. It’s pretty standard, they try not to do it in the middle of a drive, but if things start looking bad they can do it,” Bailey said. “This week in practice we’ve had to cut some things short, go without helmets and shoulder pads because our trainer directed us to do so. It’s hard at time to get kids in optimal condition because you can’t push them as hard as you would like to. I’m sure cramping will be an issue for both teams.”
The biggest thing, other than a win, that Bailey is looking for from his team is improvement. The Scots offense and defense made a number of uncharacteristic errors in last week’s scrimmage against Dillon. If those errors are minimized or eliminated, win or lose, Bailey said he will be tolerable at practice next week.
“If things don’t pan out the right way, but we didn’t turn the ball over or had a billion penalties I’m not going to be happy, but I’m going to see that we moved in a positive direction,” said Bailey. “It’s not where you start, it’s where you end. If we win a state championship no one is going to care that we won tonight. Our guys are used to winning, no one on our team is going out there expecting to lose. Our guys believe in themselves and we’ll be ready.”
The Fighting Scots and Mallard Creek kick off their 2017 seasons tonight at 7:30 p.m., gates at Pate Stadium open at 6 p.m. and fans are encouraged to get there early because a large crowd is expected.
“It should be a packed house,” said Bailey. “Mallard Creek is bringing a fan bus. I would expect a crowd of 5,000 to 6,000 which is a very good football game.”
Amber Hatten can be reached at 910-506-3170.