LAURINBURG — It’s been just over a year since Scotland has seen Hoggard in the playoffs — and this time the stakes are higher.
In 2016, the Scots squared off with the Vikings in the third round of the playoffs in Laurinburg. Scotland was riding an undefeated season and bested Hoggard, 49-27 to even the all-time record between the two teams.
Two years earlier, Hoggard had the undefeated record and Scotland headed to Wilmington in the third round of the 4A playoffs. Hoggard managed to the knock the Scots out of the playoffs in 2014 by just three points, 24-21.
Fast forward and the two will meet again this time in the 4A Eastern Regional Finals and once again the Scots have home-field advantage.
The Vikings look more like the undefeated powerhouse they were in 2014 when the lost to New Bern in Eastern Regional Finals, 49-14, despite Hoggard returning seven on defense and eight on offense from the 2016 team the Scots handled in the third round Scots head coach Richard Bailey knows this Hoggard team is different.
“They are very good and very deserving of where they are right now,” Bailey said. “They have a lot of returning players and anytime you have that you have high hopes. Those kids had a good year in 2016 and made it to the third round of the playoffs. They have a lot of seniors and is a special group for them I’m sure, much like the group we played a couple years ago when we played at Hoggard. That was a very senior-laden team. They are undefeated and haven’t been challenged a whole lot, their closest game was 12 points last week other than that they’ve blown people out.”
Hoggard is ranked No. 2 in the Mideast region after winning in the Mideastern 3A/4A conference. Hoggard throttled No. 10 South View in the second round, 63-20 before facing off with No. 6 Heritage.
Heritage held the Vikings to 20 points, but Hoggard’s defense only gave up eight to advance to the Eastern Regional Finals and maintain their pristine record.
The Vikings offense is led by senior quarterback Josh Jones, No. 12, who is 154-of-231 for 2,473 yards for 37 touchdowns and four interceptions. On the ground, Jones has 62 carries for 236 yards and five touchdowns.
“They are a difficult team to prepare for because they are a multi-formation offense,” Bailey said. “They are very balanced in the run and pass, they use a bunch of formations to get you to line up wrong. It’s a mental stress playing them. Preparation this week has been a lot tougher than most weeks, just for alignment purposes. They will run 10 plays in a row and not line up in the same formation twice.”
The Vikings work horses in the backfield are the junior Kenneth Marshall, No. 4, and senior Lloyd Jarreau, No. 34. Marshall leads the team in rushing with 91 carries for 647 yards and five touchdowns. Even though Marshall has racked up more yards this season, it’s Jarreau who finds the end zone for the Vikings. Jarreau has 103 carries for 586 yards and seven touchdowns.
Hoggard’s receiving corps is led by senior wide receiver Anthony Schiavone, No. 8, has 36 catches for 672 yards and 10 touchdowns. Senior Tre Houser, No. 5, has 32 catches for 530 yards and nine touchdowns. CJ Pipkin, No. 3, is the third leading receiver for the Vikings with 28 catches for 442 yards and three touchdowns.
Bailey knows his defense will have to step up to the challenge of stopping a Hoggard offense that is averaging 34.7 points per game. In the last two games, the Scots defense has 6.5 sacks and five interceptions but has given up 60 points.
“There is an old saying defense wins championships, we’re going to have to bring our defense this week and bring it like we haven’t brought it all year because we probably aren’t going to light the scoreboard up like a Christmas tree,” he said. “We’re going to have to play good defense and get stops — not one or two stops.
Hoggard’s defense has only given up three touchdowns in one game — two weeks ago against South View the Vikings defense gave up 20 points. Scotland offense is averaging 52.8 points per game or almost eight touchdowns.
“We’re going to have to find ways to move the ball, Hoggard doesn’t give up a lot of big plays, which means we’re going to have to drive and play clean — avoid penalties and turnovers,” Bailey said. “The more plays you run, the more chances you have to screw up.”
Bailey said he is stressing to his 32 seniors to remember losing to Cape Fear in the Eastern Regional Finals, 27-7 and how devastating that was and not underestimate their opponent again.
“They need to remember what it felt like last year, we probably should not have lost that game, we didn’t play great,” he said. “We played a team much like this one, that was undefeated and had beaten everyone on their schedule. If we don’t play at the top of our game we’re not going to win. We can’t play average and win this game — we have to play great.”
Being one game from the 4A state championship and losing is something Bailey is all too familiar with because he is constantly reminded that the Scots have gotten into the playoffs and lost every year since 2012. In 2013, the Scotland made it to the 4A state championship but lost 24-7 to Dudley
“It’s tough to keep knocking on it and not knock it down. I’m proud of the fact Scotland High School has been open for 50 years and this will be the seventh time we’ve been in the Eastern Finals and four of those seven have been in the last six years since I’ve been here,” Bailey said. “That is nothing to be ashamed of or apologize for, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to get past this point. I told our kids on Aug. 1 we didn’t break down to Eastern champs we broke down to winning a state championship.”
The Fighting Scots and Hoggard kick off the 4A Eastern Regional Finals on Friday, Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m. at Pate Stadium.
Amber Hatten can be reached at 910-506-3170.