FAIRMONT — One team enters playing its best football in two years. The other hasn’t lost a regular-season game in two years, and finally gets a normal game week after a hectic stretch.
Fairmont will host St. Pauls on the gridiron with plenty on the line for both teams Friday at 7 p.m. at Hal S. Floyd Stadium.
The Golden Tornadoes (2-5, 2-2 Southeastern Athletic Conference) are looking to earn a signature win and vault themselves into the 2A state playoffs; they enter Week 10 ranked 34th in the 2A East RPI rankings, with the top 32 in projected playoff positions.
“We’re working very hard to be competitive the next two weeks and give ourselves the greatest chance of making the 2A playoffs,” Fairmont coach Lonnie Cox said. “What we’ve been preaching all week is we control our own destiny, and if we can be competitive and win these next two football games, us getting in the playoffs is going to take care of itself.”
St. Pauls (6-0, 4-0 Southeastern) can clinch the Southeastern title with a win, since they would have a one-game lead over Clinton and own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Dark Horses with a 56-38 win Oct. 12. The Bulldogs finally have a week to prepare for an opponent after surviving a stretch of four games in 11 days, including two makeup games, with their undefeated record intact, culminating in Friday’s 46-12 win over East Bladen.
“Our main objective is to make sure our kids are healthy and fresh, so I think this week will be a good opportunity to get our legs up under us and get a little fresher,” St. Pauls coach Mike Setzer said. “The last 11 days has been a journey; I’m glad that we were able to come out successful the last 11 days.”
Fairmont enters having won two straight games after losing its first five, including a 42-0 win Friday at Red Springs. With the Tornadoes having some momentum, Setzer expects to get their best shot — just as the defending state runners-up have gotten from every opponent they’ve faced this season.
“This year we’re getting everybody’s best, so we know they’re playing as hard as they possibly can,” Setzer said. “We just have to rely on what our abilities are, and do the right things the right way for ourselves. It’s really not about just worrying about everything that they can do. They certainly do a lot of things well, but we have to make sure we impose our identity and who we are.”
One key point on the Bulldogs scouting report is, naturally, running back Kemarion Baldwin, the reigning Robeson County Heisman who has rushed for 1,035 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.
“That young man has a lot of tools in his toolbox,” Cox said. “If you try to tackle him high, he’s going to run you over, and he’s going to add an extra clip or two to his highlight reel. He is a very good football player, and what I consider to be a special talent. In order to have a chance against St. Pauls, we don’t necessarily need to stop Baldwin, but be able to contain him and keep them out of the end zone as much as possible.”
But Cox also knows that stopping St. Pauls on offense requires more than just containing Baldwin, as the Bulldogs have a well-balanced attack with just as potent as pass game as its run game.
“Credit to Coach Eric Murphy, the offensive coordinator at St. Pauls; I feel like he does a wonderful job of allowing their offense to be successful,” Cox said. “As soon as you try to stop the run, they have a very effective passing game as well. They do a very good job of keeping you honest, and they have a chance to be balanced on offense on any given night.”
The Tornadoes have also been successful offensively during their two-game winning streak. Cameron Sweat has thrown for 681 yards and six touchdowns this season, while Armon Houston has five rushing touchdowns.
“We have a pretty good crop of athletes, so I think just as much as they want to showcase their athletes, we’re going to try to do our job of putting our athletes in the best places possible, and hopefully it’ll be more advantageous for us,” Setzer said.
St. Pauls won 48-0 on April 5 in Fairmont; the Golden Tornadoes won the 2019 meeting in a 16-13 upset. The Bulldogs have won three of the last four, but Fairmont has won 10 of 16; the Golden Tornadoes lead the all-time series 42-24, but St. Pauls leads 23-17 since 1981.
Lumberton at Seventy-First
The Lumberton football team ended a 16-game losing streak with a 26-0 win over Douglas Byrd last week, but faces an uphill battle if it wants to win consecutive games as the Pirates travel to United-8 leader Seventy-First Friday.
Seventy-First (8-0, 5-0 United-8 Conference) defeated Purnell Swett 52-0 on Saturday and has allowed 4.5 points per game for the season. The Falcons average about 10 pass attempts per game with quarterback Deandre Nance, but their focal point offensively is in the run game: Anthony Quinn has rushed for 1,005 yards and 19 touchdowns and Jayden Shotwell has run for 653 yards and eight scores this season.
Lumberton (1-6, 1-4 United-8) scored four touchdowns against Douglas Byrd after scoring only one offensive touchdown the entire season entering that game; three of the four scores were passing touchdowns by quarterback Issiah Bartow, including two to Ernest Bratcher.
Lumberton won the two meetings between the teams in 1967-68; after not playing for nearly 50 years, Seventy-First has won all four meetings since 2017, including a 48-34 win on March 12 and a 42-0 win in coach Kelly Williamson’s final game with the Pirates in 2019.
Purnell Swett at Douglas Byrd
Purnell Swett’s best chance so far this season to earn a victory will come Friday in Fayetteville when the Rams face Douglas Byrd.
Both teams enter the game winless. Douglas Byrd (0-8, 0-5 United-8) lost 26-0 at Lumberton last week, and the Eagles have scored six total points in their last six games. Most of their eight losses have been by one-sided margins, with a 22-8 loss to one-win Red Springs the closest game on the Eagles’ schedule.
Purnell Swett (0-4, 0-4 United-8) has scored six points in four games this season, which was on a special teams touchdown, after not playing until Week 7 due to COVID-19 protocols.
The programs have split six previous meetings, but Purnell Swett has won the last three, with Douglas Byrd’s last win coming in 2005. Friday marks their first meeting as conference opponents.