Southern favored, but no lock, in tonight's state 3-AA semifinals
Hunt High School football coach Stevie Hinnant is no stranger to deep runs in the state playoffs — his No. 4 seeded Warriors (11-3) will be playing in the 3-AA semifinals for the fourth straight time tonight at 7:30 at No. 2 Southern (12-2).
And Hinnant’s no stranger to facing powerhouses. The Warriors lost the last three state semifinals to eventual three-time state 3-AA champion Northern Guilford.
So, after upsetting No. 1 East Region seed Douglas Byrd in Fayetteville last week, knowing that Northern Guilford was relegated to the West semifinals this year, he might have thought he was getting a break.
So much for thinking.
“You sit there and start watching the film (of Southern) and what you see is a special group,” Hinnant said. “We don’t see a lot of spread offenses and they’re lining up four and five wide (receivers) out there. They’re guys that can make some catches and with the great quarterback (Kendall Hinton) they’ve got, they can score some points. They’re a quality team.”
Southern’s pass/run balance of 266.1 yards per game passing and 247 rushing is the envy of many coaches, Hinnant among them. He readily admits his pro-style offense is run first, run second and maybe catch you on your heels for the occasional big-play pass. Of the Warriors’ 250-odd total offense yardage average, only 20 percent or so comes through the air.
“We’re pretty much a run team,” Hinnant said. “We’re young on offense. We’ve got a sophomore quarterback (Jake Williamson) and three sophomores on the offensive line and we make some mistakes ... We’re not dynamic or explosive (on offense) ... Jake Williamson doesn’t pass the ball a lot but he throws a pretty ball. We’ll do our best to control the ball and keep their offense off the field. That’s what everyone tries to do against them.”
Southern coach Adrian Jones has been to the state semifinal round once before — losing in the semis as Southern’s first-year coach in 2007 — and knows that Hunt relies on an opportunistic defense and a solid if not spectacular offense to get the job done.
“‘The key to their defense?’” Jones said, mulling a question. “It’s their secondary. They’re very good back there. They create turnovers and get good field position for their offense.”
Hunt averages an interception per game and has a remarkable 41 sacks this season, putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks up front and setting up that strong secondary to make a push on the ball.
“They’re a pretty athletic team, good football players — some very good kids with nice size — and they’re well coached,” Jones said of Hunt. “They play smash-mouth football, but we’re used to that.”
After losing his second game of the season — both to Southern — and being eliminated by the Spartans in the state quarterfinals last week, Orange High coach Pat Moser talked about Southern’s offense providing a pick-your-poison conundrum for defensive coordinators.
Double cover N.C State wide receiver recruit Maurice Trowell and fellow 1,000-plus yard receiver Derrick Mason can burn you from the other side. Worry about Hinnant’s 3,400-plus yard passing arm and he’ll burn you with his 1,100-yard rushing legs.
Hinnant’s ability to recognize defensive schemes and find the open man as well as elude the rush will be keys to a Southern win tonight.
“Our quarterback is smart enough to recognize what they’re doing (on defense),” Jones said. “They get a lot of sacks, but we’ve got a very good offensive line and Kendall can elude people.”
NOTES — Hunt lost a couple of games to 2-A teams early in the season, largely because it played the first part of the year without six or seven starters who were all down with injuries. Since their return, the Warriors have won eight straight. ... Hunt has 20 seniors, as many as a half-dozen or so who are three-year starters and familiar with deep state playoff runs. “They really want to get to the Big Show this year,” Hinnant said of a state title game appearance. ... Southern, which lost starting defensive end Isaiah Ross at the end of the regular season, is relatively healthy otherwise, Jones said.
NCHSAA 3-AA EAST REGION FINAL
No. 4 Wilson Hunt at No. 2 Southern, 7:30 p.m.
Southern High School
Record — 12-2
Points scored — 47.2 per game
Points allowed — 24.8 per game
Total offense — 513 yards per game (266.1 passing, 247 rushing)
2013 losses (date, opponent, classification, final or current record, site, score) — 8/30 Hillside 4-A (9-3) home, 29-24; 9/13 Laurinburg Scotland County 4-A (15-0) home, 53-31.
Win streak — 11
NOTABLES — Quarterback Kendall Hinton leads the team in rushing with 79 carries for 1,100 yards (13.9 per carry) and 12 TDs and in passing 188 of 288 (65 percent) for 3,447 yards, 32 touchdowns and four interceptions.
In the backfield, three other Spartans have rushed for at least 536 yards and average at least 7.4 yards per carry led by West Virginia recruit William Cameron (81 carries for 789 yards, 9.7 per carry, 10 TDs), Jordan Brown (72 for 676, 9.4 per carry, 12 TDs) and Toney Bass (72 for 536, 7.4 per carry, seven TDs).
On the receiving end of Hinton’s passes are star wideouts Maurice Trowell and Derrick Mason with over 1,100 receiving yards apiece. N.C. State recruit Trowell has caught 78 passes for 1,492 yards — 19.13 yards per catch — and 16 scores. Mason has 63 grabs for 1,109 yards — 17.6 per catch — and 11 receiving touchdowns.
Southern is playing in its first East Region final since 2007.
James B. Hunt High School
Record — 11-3
Points scored — 28.2 per game
Points allowed —18.5 per game
Total offense — 248.4 yards per game (54.9 passing, 193.5 rushing)
2013 losses (date, opponent, classification, final record, site, score) — 8/29 Hertford County 2-A (7-6) home, 21-15; 9/6 Wilmington New Hanover 4-A (9-4) home 36-13; 9/27 at Wilson Beddingfield 2-A (8-5) 15-13.
Win streak — 8
NOTABLES — Quarterback Jacob Williamson, a sophomore, would appear to be a non-factor in the passing department since he’s completed just 41 percent of his 87 pass attempts for four touchdowns and seven interceptions. But he has big-play capability, witness his 18.1 yards per completion average.
On the ground, 6-3, 200 pound Dexter Wright has rushed for more than 1,300 yards (7.62 yards per carry) and scored 18 times. Sophomore Darius Barnes, 5-11, 185, has more than 700 yards rushing and puts up seven yards a carry.
Malik Williams is Hunt’s No. 1 receiver, and averages 23 yards per catch, but has only 10 catches on the season to lead all Warrior receivers.
Hunt is playing in its fourth consecutive East Region final, and has lost the previous three to eventual three-time reigning state champion Northern Guilford.