LAURINBURG — Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
Conference championships have been plentiful for the Fighting Scots — entering the second round of the playoffs as the reining kings of the Sandhills Athletic Conference.
A 4A state championship has proven far more elusive. Despite entering the 4A playoff arena time and again the pride of Scotland County is six years removed from their 2011 state championship.
As the number of conference crowns rise the expectations of the Fighting Scots faithful increase along with the pressure they put on head coach Richard Bailey and his squad. The Scots will host a familiar foe in Seventy-First on Friday in Pate Stadium as they continue their chase for the ring.
“We’re carrying the hopes and dreams of all of Scotland County,” Bailey said. “I don’t think our fans and the people in the stands understand the burden we carry. No one wants it worse than the kids on the team and the coaches. We prepare as hard as we can, we’ve never lost because our kids didn’t try hard. We may not have played well and that happens — if you don’t believe me ask Ohio State and Georgia.”
Bailey and the team are doing their best to block out the expectations and chatter on social media surrounding Friday’s game.
”If we don’t win it’s disappointing but you can’t go out playing worried and nervous because the reality is there is more pressure on us than there is on Seventy-First,” he said. “They are playing with house money, we beat them one time and I’m sure they are pulling out the David and Goliath speech. We’re the ones with the pressure not to fail.”
Scotland set the school single-game rushing record with 623 yards. The state the single-game rushing record belongs to Alexander Central who rushed for 801 yards against Ashe County in 2016.
According to the North Carolina High School Association’s state football records, the game will rank 17th all-time for most rushing yards in a single game.
Scots quarterback Warren Bell’s name was added to the state record books after his eight rushing touchdowns to go along with 280 rushing yards. University of Georgia commit Zamir White had 310 rushing yards — a school record he has since surpassed with 316 yards against Richmond two weeks ago.
Just because the Fighting Scots ran all over Seventy-First in October on their way to a 56-35 win doesn’t mean that’s going to be the case this go round.
”It’s always tough to beat a good team twice, you see that in the NFL all the time,” Bailey said. “You have to be cautious with any over confidence you might have. Seventy-First had a lot of success against us offensively. Defensively we were able to move the ball — so defenses feel like this is a little bit of a redemption game. I’m sure their coaches are going over that film with a fine-toothed comb trying to figure out what they could have done differently — and our staff has as well.”
Seventy-First tallied 417 yards of offense — 208 through the air and 209 on the ground. The Falcons offensive success came from quarterback Kyler Davis (No. 10) and wide receiver Reggie Bryant (No. 21). Bryant burned the Scots secondary for 117 yards and four touchdowns. Falcons running back Fabion Jones (No. 5) also had success with 17 carries for 130 yards.
“We have to stop No. 21 that is the key. He is their touchdown maker, they get their explosive plays from him,” Bailey said. “Last week, he had a kick off return for a touchdown and had a pass reception for a touchdown — they only scored three touchdowns and the other was on an interception. We’ve got to find a way to double cover him as much as we can. He is the best receiver we played against all year.”
The Scots are playing a bit of a guessing game when it comes to how to prepare for Seventy-First’s defense because they Falcons lined up in every front known to football. Bailey believes Seventy-First will return to their roots and operate out of a 3-3 stack defense.
“That in itself is a little bit of a quandary, we don’t know what to prepare for,” Bailey said. “They were consistent in their film against everyone but us that they are a 3-3 stack team. Even against us they did line up that way — some — against certain formations we gave them. When we gave them other formations they ran everything under the sun. They played four or five different fronts against us. Knowing coach McLaurin I think they will go back to basics, do what we do best and I expect to see them in the 3-3 stack.”
As the Scots begin their chase for the ring Bailey hopes his players understand the importance of Friday’s game and now it’s win or go home.
“I’ve got 32 seniors trying to extend their careers,” he said. “We have to understand the magnitude of Friday’s game because if you don’t win it’s over and that would be a big disappointment to us.”
The Fighting Scots and Seventy-First will kick off the second round of the 4A playoffs at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Pate Stadium. Fans are encouraged to arrive early and dress warmly because the sun will have already set when kick off rolls around and the temperature is expected to drop off.
Amber Hatten can be reached at 910-506-3170.