LAURINBURG — The time has come for the Fighting Scots to prove to people they can be a winning team — without No. 34 in the backfield.
Senior tailback Zamir White will be on the side lines for moral support for his teammates, but an ACL tear he suffered last week has ended his high school football career.
While the loss of White was shocking Fighting Scots head coach Richard Bailey wants fans to understand that White isn’t the only person suiting up to play for Scotland on Friday nights.
“You’re not going to replace Zamir, but we are blessed at the running back position to have three other players who are each very capable in their own right along with Warren Bell, so it’s more of a devastating blow emotionally to lose Zamir,” he said. “Obviously you’re upset for Zamir because we all know how bad he wants to be out there, but we’re going to absorb the loss by committee and find a way to keep our season going.”
White will still be on the sidelines supporting his teammates, Bailey said the senior has been at practice all week doing what he can to contribute.
The Fighting Scots will face the No. 4 seeded team in the East — South Central. The Falcons have a 10-2 overall record and 5-1 in the Eastern Carolina 3A/4A Conference. They finished second in their conference behind D.H. Conley — who was eliminated on Friday in the second round of the 3AA playoffs by Eastern Guilford.
Bailey will look to junior tailback Shyeam “Smiley” McQueen, the 2016 SEC Offensive Player of the Year, to become the Scots feature back and will share carries with senior quarterback Warren Bell, senior tailback/wide receivers Khalil Smith and running back Joseph “Papa” McKoy for the remainder of the season.
Bailey said McQueen proved last season, during a three-game stretch when White was injured, that he is a very capable back and can lead the Scots to victory.
“The offense won’t change we’ll just be handing it to a different guy,” Bailey said. “Smiley has proved he is more than capable and can break off 30 and 40-yard runs. We just won’t have as many 70-or-80 yard runs like we did with Zamir. We also have Warren who has really on in over the last eight or nine weeks. My hope is that Smiley will run very inspired, just like when Smiley got hurt and Zamir ran inspired.”
For far this season, McQueen has 46 carries for 385 yards and four touchdowns while Bell has 121 carries for 1,142 yards and 11 touchdowns to be the second and third leading rushers on the team behind White. McQueen’s numbers aren’t as high as last season due to a shoulder injury he suffered in the second week of conference play against Purnell Swett that sidelined him for six weeks.
The explosive Scots offense, ranked No. 2 in the 4A classification in scoring averaging 51 points per game, will meet the No. 1 scoring offense in the 4A football in South Central. The Falcons are averaging 52 points per game behind the play of senior quarterback Dexter McDuffie.
McDuffie has thrown for over 2,000 yards this season. He has 109 passes for 2,054 yards and 26 touchdowns and just six interceptions for a passer rating of 122.2.
To go along with 26 passing touchdowns, McDuffie has tallied 17 rushing touchdowns and almost 1,200 yards. The Falcons quarterback has carried the ball 121 times for 1,145 yards and 17 touchdowns — but he is not the Falcons leading rusher.
That title belongs to junior Nazir Monroe-Smith who has 139 carries for 1,287 yards and 20 touchdowns.
When he isn’t running the ball, McDuffie’s main target in the passing game is senior wide receiver Emannuel Lewis who has 39 catches for 1,018 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Falcons next closest receiver is junior Jeremy Lewis who has 31 catches for 459 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Falcons spread offense could pose a problem for the Fighting Scots secondary, but Bailey said over the past few weeks his defense has gotten it’s groove back which raises his confidence in their ability to contain McDuffie.
“Their entire offense — all of it works through their quarterback,” Bailey said. “South Central runs a spread offense, so they are all over the field but they are very balanced in how much they throw and run it averaging 500 yards of offense a game. The numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt because they haven’t played a tough schedule, put up a lot of points on the board.”
Bailey said despite he knows South Central hasn’t faced a defense like Scotland’s yet this season and he’s hoping that works to his advantage, that and the Falcons have several players that play on both sides of the ball.
“They haven’t faced a defense as good as ours, statistically I know it doesn’t look like we’re performing but we’ve faced much stiffer competition this season,” Bailey said. “Our defense is finally getting its swagger back, so as coach Johnson always says I think we’ll get enough stops to win the game.”
South Central’s leading rusher Monroe-Smith along with McDuffie, E. Lewis and J. Lewis play both ways for the Falcons — a trend Bailey hopes they will continue on Friday because blocking and getting hit by the Fighting Scots wears teams down.
“We lean on people, they are going to have to be in good shape to go four quarters against us,” Bailey said.
The Falcons run a 4-2-5 defense, which means they will feature four down linemen, two linebackers in the middle and five players in the secondary. Bailey said South Central’s defense isn’t big, but they are fast and run to the football.
More than ever, Bailey said the Fighting Scots need fans to pack the Pate because it’s going to be an emotional game, but he said the players need to know that the Scotland County faithful come to see the team play and not just one player.
”We need to pack the Pate,” he said. “It would really help our kids to know the fans are in it for the long haul and are there each week to support the entire team.”
The Fighting Scots and the South Central Falcons will kick off at 7:30 p.m. on Friday inside Pate Stadium. Tickets for the game are $8 and can be purchased ahead of time at Scotland Bling and Shirt Tales on Friday or at the gate prior to the game.
Amber Hatten can be reached at 910-506-3170.