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Scheduling a football season in the Twin Counties

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SouthWest Edgecombe's coach Jonathan Cobb directs his players where to go during a 2016 practice SouthWest Edgecombe High School.

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By ETHAN JOYCE
Sports Writer

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Jonathan Cobb was stuck with a plate of chicken livers.

The SouthWest Edgecombe football coach ordered the fried delicacy to share with other coaches at the Eastern Plains conference meeting on Tuesday in Wilson. When the waiter strolled with the organs into the back room of Parker’s Barbecue, Cobb was saddled with responsibility.

“I’m not going to eat all these things myself,” Cobb laughed as he grabbed the first piece.

After 10 minutes passed, Cobb was still manning the plate alone. Finding someone to help him eat the livers was just like trying to find non-conference opponents for his team’s schedule — takers were getting hard to find.

Cobb is one of the many football coaches who has had difficulties with putting together a slate of games. Coaches have had to widen their range for perspective matchups to accommodate the scheduling struggles because of location, the style of play and the success of Twin Counties programs.

And the proof is in the travel. Six of eight Twin Counties teams in the NCHSAA will either travel their highest average distance for non-conference away games this season or did so last season. 

In 2017, three football teams will average more than 80 miles (one way) for non-conference away games: Rocky Mount Prep (107.1), SouthWest Edgecombe (83.9) and Rocky Mount High (83.1). While those averages are composed of a range of two-to-four games, it’s still a little farther than most coaches would like to travel. They will do so to balance their schedules.

When he plans out every season, Cobb looks to fill his non-conference with equal parts of games he thinks his Cougars can win and games that will test them. He had little interest from what he considered comparable 2-A schools in the surrounding counties, so he looked toward the coast. 

SouthWest Edgecombe will play both Pasquotank County and Currituck County on the road this season. Both bus rides will be more than 200 miles each round trip. 

“It is all relative, and you try to forecast it so you get that balance because nobody wants their kids to be deflated when conference starts because you played all A-plus-plus schools or you have a false sense of confidence by playing too low of competition,” Cobb said. “I don't think anyone wants either extremes. Get different teams with different offenses so your defense is getting good looks.

“Really, non-conference is supposed to be training for conference. And everybody wants to win them all, but unfortunately you are not always going to win them all.”

Brian Foster is starting his 20th season as head coach of Southern Nash. Scheduling has always been a complicated dance. Firebirds football had three open contracts to replace for this coming season, and Foster said the hope is to always keep it local. Most of the time, though, coaches have to take the first opening they see. Southern Nash will travel to Cary Green Hope in Week 1. The Firebirds will also host Class 4-AA champion Wake Forest and fellow 3-A school Jacksonville White Oak.

“That is not exactly what you want to do, but when you get closer and closer to time and you've got dates to fill, you've got to do something,” Foster said of the tough upcoming matchups. “If somebody calls you and they've got a date and you've got that date, sometimes you have to agree to play.”

Teams —  especially better programs — typically look to field an 11-game schedule. That way come playoff time, teams can drop a non-conference loss to have a better 10-game record for NCHSAA seeding purposes. This season, Rocky Mount High will have their first 10-game schedule since 2012 because the 11th game would have been to taxing to work out. Gryphons coach Jason Battle has led the team to two consecutive 3-A finals berths, including a 2015 state championship. That made it even more difficult to find suitors. 

“Some of (the situation) was reacting late, but I think a lot of it was the people that had played us previously, they had already scheduled games,” Battle said. “Then, you know, there is the fact that we've played for two back-to-back state championships. People thought that we were too difficult of a team to play non-conference.

“Once we got the five teams that we did get, we actually had to turn some people down that would have put us in a position that our non-conference schedule would have been very extreme.”

Foster and Battle both mentioned that a bigger conference can combat scheduling woes better. Filling the slots for three or four games is naturally easier than five or six like teams. Battle also mentioned a larger grouping would prevent the long trips where neither school comes out well financially. But until a change like that comes for Twin Counties football teams, coaches will continue to maneuver around the state so their teams remain competitive.

“I think a team wants to schedule games you can win, but it is to the point now where there aren't many teams you can just go beat,” Foster said. “And when you do that, you are basing it off what they did the previous years, and teams change.

“. . . We will play whoever we've got to play. I want our kids to be ready anytime.”

 

Average distances (in miles) between Twin Counties schools and their non-conference away opponents
Team 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Rocky Mount High 65.5 48.4 64.7 84.3 83.1
Southern Nash 49.1 31.8 55 32.8 59.7
Northern Nash 54.8 45.1 59.9 78.4 48.9
Nash Central 62.6 41.9 39 24.1 22.9
SouthWest Edgecombe 49.9 17.8 48.8 28.5 83.9
Tarboro 25.9 37.1 25.9 41.6 20.3
North Edgecombe 25.6 47.8 25.6 27.7 21.8
Rocky Mount Prep 73 30.2 47.4 39 107.1

 

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