THE GOOD: The Firebirds have been solid throughout to begin this season. Five straight wins to open the year have been a result of Southern Nash’s depth. The Firebirds have had positives from every position group, and coach Brian Foster has been happy with his team so far.
THE BAD: It’s hard to overlook the effect injuries have had on Southern Nash. Almost the entire varsity backfield was wiped out with injuries by the end of Week 1. Key players along both lines were hurt, and Southern Nash had little choice but to plug in JV players at some spots. A few more banged-up players could derail Southern Nash’s year.
REST-OF-SEASON OUTLOOK: At full health, Southern Nash probably was the conference favorite. The Firebirds won’t be anywhere close to full health for the rest of the year, and players who would have been reserves have to become impact players. So far it has worked for Southern Nash, but it’s hard to believe all the injuries won’t catch up to the Firebirds in at least one game.
COACH’S GRADE: B+
THE GOOD: The past three games have really shown how good Rocky Mount Academy can be. With a talented offensive line and really good play makers, the Eagles have scored 50-plus points. Rocky Mount Academy’s run-heavy offense has proved to the state that the system can work in 2-A.
THE BAD: If there’s one thing that the Eagles can work on, its tackling. Defense still could be an issue. It just hasn’t been tested in recent weeks. In Rocky Mount Academy’s one game against a potential playoffs team, the Eagles allowed 72 points.
REST-OF-SEASON OUTLOOK: The next three weeks will be the true test for the Eagles. All three teams defeated Rocky Mount Academy last year, but the playoffs are a realistic destination and a deep run is a possibility.
COACH’S GRADE: B
THE GOOD: Tarboro has overcome some key injuries through the first month of the season to its starting defensive end and a number of key ballcarriers. That has forced coach Jeff Craddock and his coaching staff to dip into the junior varsity roster and make some position shifts to shore up a few key spots. Those players have responded, and now the Vikings have more depth than they might have expected.
THE BAD: Penalties and turnovers have hurt the Vikings through the first five games.
Craddock said the team has had a touchdown called back because of penalties in every game. Such transgressions led to a rare regular-season loss (Aug. 30 at Washington), which ended the program’s 14-game regular-season winning streak.
REST-OF-SEASON OUTLOOK: Tarboro’s toughest remaining game might just come tonight in a nonconference matchup against Southern Nash.
The Vikings’ first trip through the Two Rivers Conference will have them as heavy favorites in each of their games in October. There still is plenty of talent and opportunity for the Vikings to make a sixth straight trip to an NCHSAA state title game.
COACH’S GRADE: B
THE GOOD: It might come as a surprise, but the Gryphons’ passing game has been a spark for the team. No longer does Rocky Mount have to rely exclusively on its run attack.
Three-year starter J.T. Smith has given coach Jason Battle options and receivers like Rashawn Harris and Bikembe Kearney give Smith options that can score on any play.
THE BAD: While the pass attack has shined, the run game has struggled behind an offensive line that has struggled to make holes and keep defends out of the backfield. The Gryphons have been stalled on the ground through the past five quarters.
REST-OF-SEASON OUTLOOK: Rocky Mount definitely is a contender for the Big East Conference championship this year.
A nonconference schedule has forced the team to unite and come away with just one loss – what most people thought would have been a best-case scenario. A big plus: The Gryphons face their top opponent for the title, Southern Nash, at home in four weeks.
COACH’S GRADE: B-
THE GOOD: Even in the course of this season, Northern Nash has improved drastically. Northern Nash was routed by Elizabeth City Northeastern in Week 2, and Knights coach Randy Raper felt the team squandered a pair of close games – the opener at Wendell Corinth-Holders and the Week 3 matchup at Tarboro – with one bad quarter.
The Knights have won three straight and have all the makings of a dangerous team.
THE BAD: Northern Nash still is in an adjustment period. While the Knights have looked good for most of the past few weeks, their toughest competition lies ahead with the Big East Conference. Raper said he would have graded his team with an ‘F’ after two weeks, and he said the team still has work to do even though it has improved.
REST-OF-SEASON OUTLOOK: Very uncertain. The Knights took care of three lesser opponents the past three weeks – undoubtedly a good sign for a growing team – but they remain the biggest question in the Big East.
Northern Nash has a high ceiling, but also a low floor. Going forward, is Northern Nash the team that won three straight or the one that melted down in two early-season games?
COACH’S GRADE: C+
THE GOOD: The Bulldogs’ defense has been a pleasant surprise. The scores haven’t shown it, but Nash Central’s defense has played well for the most part, even with an offense that has struggled.
The biggest positive to Nash Central coach Kevin Crudup is the team’s effort. The Bulldogs are more than 75 percent underclassmen, and he has seen the makings of a good team down the road.
THE BAD: Nash Central is young, thin on numbers and depleted by injuries. As Crudup said, no matter who suffers an injury, it’s a big deal to the Bulldogs, who don’t have much depth at any position. The 0-6 start has been reflective of a team that hasn’t quite put an entire game together yet.
REST-OF-SEASON OUTLOOK: Nash Central’s challenging nonconference schedule is finished, and Crudup believes it hardened his team. Crudup said he believes his squad can win the Big East Conference, but with a very young offensive line, it will be difficult to stay consistent.
Nash Central’s hopes rest in future years, not this one, but the Bulldogs would do well to earn a pair of wins in the Big East.
COACH’S GRADE: C
THE GOOD: Offensively, the Warriors have moved the football against each of their opponents. Coach Keith Parisher said he would like to see the offense expand by throwing the ball more than it has in the past. Sophomore Antwoine Pittman’s running game – two consecutive 200-yard games – would certainly seem to give North Edgecombe the opportunity to put the ball in the air.
THE BAD: Parisher wants two simple things from his defensive unit: Better tackling and assignment football. Even in victories, the Warriors have tackled poorly and not maintained their defensive assignments.
There still is time to correct such things, but those are not issues any coach wants to address during the conference season.
REST-OF-SEASON OUTLOOK: North Edgecombe will not be the favorite to win the Two Rivers Conference – that distinction goes to rival Tarboro – but the Warriors certainly could be among the top three teams in the league.
COACH’S GRADE: C
THE GOOD: Coach Jonathan Cobb said the team is playing better defensively than it has the past two seasons. The Cougars certainly have been tested. Their losses came to Southern Nash, Tarboro and Rocky Mount High, who are a combined 13-2 this season. SouthWest Edgecombe’s strong suit continues to be its backfield, and when healthy, there might not be a better combination in the Twin Counties.
THE BAD: The Cougars have the skill players to put up points, but they don’t always have the opportunity to showcase their talents.
The team’s offensive line – which has shuffled eight different players – still is progressing and has lacked consistency.
There only is one senior on the line (tight end), and there often are three sophomores starting up front. If the Cougars’ big men continue to develop, the team could keep the scoreboard operator busy.
REST-OF-SEASON OUTLOOK: A poll of the Eastern Plains Conference coaches at this point could produce a handful of different answers about who is the league’s best team. Cobb won’t say that his team is the best at this juncture of the season, but he believes there is enough talent on the roster to be among the better squads in the EPC.
COACH’S GRADE: C
THE GOOD: The Jaguars picked up the first victory in school history in Rocky Mount Prep’s season opener against Gaston KIPP-Pride.
During the past three weeks, the Jaguars have scored 66 points the past three weeks. That’s 38 more points than any other three-week span against varsity competition.
THE BAD: The Jaguars still are struggling with the basics: Tackling and blocking. Quarterback Mark Tann constantly is running for his life, and most recently against Southeast Halifax, Rocky Mount Prep didn’t seem to want to make a tackle.
REST-OF-SEASON OUTLOOK: Coach Don Reams hopes there’s another victory out there somewhere, but at the very least, the Jaguars are in the middle of the best season in school history, even if there’s not much.
COACH’S GRADE: D-