LAURINBURG — Richard Bailey is used to winning football games.
Ever since Bailey took over as Scotland’s head coach prior to the 2012 season, his teams have posted a combined 78-11 record. The Scots haven’t lost more than two games in their six seasons under Bailey’s tutelage.
Three weeks into the 2018 season, that streak is in jeopardy. The Scots are heading into their bye week with a 1-2 record.
“I really don’t remember being 1-2 in my career,” Bailey said.
In many ways, this season has been different than the successful campaigns Bailey has become accustomed to in his 17 years as a high school football coach. The Scots lost 32 seniors from last year’s team that finished as the runner-up in the state championship game.
Several injuries early this season put even more pressure on a team that was already short on senior leadership. Starting quarterback Bruce Wall suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the Fighting Scots’ season opener at Matthews Butler after senior linebacker Josh McKenzie sustained the same injury during preseason workouts.
One week after Wall’s injury, running back Syheam ‘Smiley’ McQueen left Scotland’s game against Durham Hillside with a sprained MCL. In the first quarter of that game, defensive back Tyshuon Thomas was ejected after a brief altercation with a Hillside player. Thomas was given a two-game suspension for the incident — not including the remaining three quarters he missed against the Hornets.
After all of the adversity that came into play early in the season, Scotland’s bye week gives the team a chance to catch its breath and address some issues before the Scots host West Mecklenburg next week.
“When you’ve got young kids it’s hard to tell what their mindset is,” Bailey said. “I hope it’s that we need to get better and improve on things we didn’t do well last Friday (against Marlboro County) and build on the things we did good.
“You hope they stay focused and you’d think they’d become very determined, but sometimes when you’re dealing with young kids it’s easy to get discouraged or lose focus on what’s really important. It’s the little things.”
Bailey said his team has been focusing on eliminating the costly mistakes — including a pick-six and a fumble in the second half — that helped Marlboro County leave Pate Stadium with a 41-25 win last Friday.
“It’s different if they’re just out-talenting you,” Bailey said. “But if you change five or six plays and the execution of those plays, both offensively and defensively, it’s probably a different outcome in that game.
“Our margin of error is very small. We can’t make those types of mistakes and beat anybody that’s any good.”
With sophomore Tyler Barfield working on getting comfortable running the offense as Wall’s replacement at quarterback, the Scots have been increasingly reliant on their run game.
Senior Joseph “Poppa” McKoy carried the ball 24 times for a total of 123 yards and two touchdowns against Marlboro County. McKoy and sophomore Darrius Dockery will continue to see playing time in the backfield while McQueen recovers from his injury.
McKoy said the Scots’ rough start to the season has motivated them to get better.
“All we’re going to do is work harder,” McKoy said. “The first quarter doesn’t win games. You’ve got to play good all four quarters. You can’t play good one half and expect to win the next half.”
Brandon Tester can be reached at [email protected] or 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonTester.