PREGAME CHATTER: Both teams enter the game looking to rebound after disappointing 2013 campaigns. Nash Central didn’t win a game, while Tarboro lost it’s first home playoffs game in more than a decade.
WHAT IT MEANS: On paper Tarboro is chalked up to be a heavy favorite, but Vikings’ coach Jeff Craddock has expressed his concerns about Nash Central. The Bulldogs have a new offense and are trying to snap a 13-game losing streak. A win for them would be monumental, while a loss for Tarboro, would be well, monumental.
DIFFERENCE MAKER: Vikings’ sophomore quarterback Dawson Harris. Harris will be the trigger man in Tarboro’s triple-option attack. He’ll have to exploit Bulldogs defensive end Houshun Gaines in order to move the ball.
PREGAME CHATTER: Expectations are high at Rocky Mount after the Gryphons made the 3-A state playoffs for the second straight season. They have a senior quarterback in Joshua Carter and plenty of talent around him. South Granville travels to Rocky Mount under first-year coach Doug Colgan.
WHAT IT MEANS: The Gryphons have won their past five season openers, including last season’s 27-14 decision at South Granville. But the Vikings went 9-3 last season and made the 2-AA state playoffs - meaning this in now way is a guaranteed win.
DIFFERENCE MAKER: Linebackers Sharrod Greene and Channing Green. They will be tasked with stopping Vikings running back Sean Bowman, who ran for 2,328 yards last season.
PREGAME CHATTER: The roles are reversed this season for the Sweet Potato Bowl. Southern Nash is the team trying to break in new talent at several key positions, including quarterback, and SouthWest Edgecombe is a more experienced team, particularly on offense with its depth at running back. The Cougars will rely heavily on that backfield for their offensive production as the main trio of Devontrell Hyman, Barry Smith and Marcus Williams are also the team’s best receiving options. The Firebirds also possess experienced talent at running back with their own trio of backs who made big impacts last season.
WHAT IT MEANS: For the Firebirds, tonight’s kickoff will be the end of an offseason of what-ifs after injuries derailed a potentially long playoffs run. For the Cougars, tonight will challenge an undersized defense that looked shaky against bigger teams last week at the Tarboro Football Jamboree. Both teams will learn a lot more about their teams and their playoffs aspirations after this game’s over.
DIFFERENCE MAKER: SouthWest Edgecombe’s defensive line. The Cougars’ defensive line struggled to make it into the backfield during the jamboree, which does not bode well against a Firebirds squad that will try to ease a new quarterback into the season with a trio of running backs who made an impact last year. If SouthWest Edgecombe can’t stop the run then it will be a long night for the Cougars’ defense.
PREGAME CHATTER: The Knights feel like they are a better team this season because of their team chemistry and offseason workouts despite the loss of several talented players on both sides of the ball. Senior quarterback Jacob Green returns under center, and there are a plethora of running backs coach Randy Raper has at his disposal. Northern Nash will rely heavily on junior cornerback Namir Davis defensively as it tries to compensate for the loss of several key starters on that side of the ball.
WHAT IT MEANS: Davis was confident Northern Nash would return to the playoffs this season, and this is the first step. Raper said this game will define his team and how hard they are willing to fight for victory. These two teams met last year, but the Knights squandered chances to win the game in regulation before losing in overtime. This season, Raper is hoping to see that intensity from his squad that won’t let that result happen again.
DIFFERENCE MAKER: Knights quarterback Jacob Green. The senior is in his second year as the starter, and he said he feels much more comfortable in the offense. Raper said he just wants Green to manage the game and not try to be a hero, but with a limited number of weapons to throw to, Green might need to make a big play late in a close game.
PREGAME CHATTER: Northwest Halifax opens the season with a trip to Leggett tonight to visit the Warriors. The opener should provide North Edgecombe a chance to play much of its roster and figure out what could possibly work for tougher weeks ahead. The Warriors might not feel much resistance from the Vikings, who won only a single game last season – mostly by the lopsided variety – and have been a program with a great deal of coaching turnover during the past few seasons.
WHAT IT MEANS: North Edgecombe has a chance to open the season with a win against an opponent it should beat.
DIFFERENCE MAKER: Warriors starters. If coach Keith Parisher’s starters take care of business early, it could leave ample time for reserves to earn quality game time in preparation for next week’s game against rival SouthWest Edgecombe.
PREGAME CHATTER: While emotions might run high for Rocky Mount Prep simply because it is opening night, KIPP-Pride’s hearts will flutter for other reasons. The home squad is still dealing with the recent death of athletics director/football coach Diego Hasty. Hasty, who won more than 200 games during his career at various schools, was beloved by many, and surely KIPP-Pride will want nothing more than to honor him with a victory. Rocky Mount Prep earned its first varsity victory in last season’s opener against KIPP-Pride at the Rocky Mount Sports Complex.
WHAT IT MEANS: Rocky Mount Prep wants to begin coach Danny Ward’s tenure at the school with a victory. A challenging scheduling and being a program only in its third season of existence makes such games as tonight important ones for the Jaguars.
DIFFERENCE MAKER: Jaguars running back Mark Tann. Tann made the big plays in last season’s opener, and he might need a repeat performance to propel his squad.
– Jessie H. Nunery, Andrew Ivins & Josh Walfish