Brotherly duo leads Southern's defense into state playoffs
Having dynamic players with the same last name isn’t a new trend at Southern Vance.
Brothers De’Vante, Chris and Shawn Henderson starred last season. This season, Deon and Sheldon Smith are the featured attraction of the Raiders’ defense.
Deon, a senior, plays in the backfield and at linebacker and is second in team tackles to Sheldon, a junior that has amassed around 150 tackles from his outside linebacker position.
“These guys are just special,” said Southern head coach Lewis Young. “In practice, in a game, they just give it everything they’ve got. They leave it all on the field. A low ball, they’re going to be diving for it.”
The performance of the Smith brothers could play a vital role Friday in the opening round of the 2-A state playoffs as Southern makes the 180-mile trek south to Tabor City to meet a South Columbus team that prides itself on running the football.
South Columbus (8-3) owns a two-seed and is the top seed out of the split-classification Three Rivers Conference. The 15th-seeded Raiders (5-6) finished fourth in the 2-A Northern Carolina Conference after last Friday’s 37-22 loss at Franklinton.
Deon Smith had 14 tackles by halftime against the Red Rams.
“We have to hit them and stay wrapped up to them,” Deon said of South Columbus, which has fallen one game short of the 2-A state championship in each of the past two seasons. Both semifinal losses were to Tarboro.
Deon and Sheldon Smith each line up on offense with Sheldon playing running back and fullback and Deon taking handoffs and catching passes from senior quarterback Ty-Traveon Roberts.
“They’re the most unselfish players I’ve ever played with,” said Roberts. “...They go and do what they have to do. They give it 110 percent no matter what.”
Versatile as they may be, the Smiths’ signature contributions to the team have been on defense.
Deon said when his brother hits a player — they know it. Sheldon added that playing with his older brother has made him a better player.
“He keeps pushing me and motivating me and I motivate him,” said Sheldon. “We get better off each other and we play off each other.”
Deon Smith is a natural defensive back, but Young moved him up for run support with the Raiders facing so many rush-heavy offenses this season.
Southern’s defense was stubborn in a three-game span with consecutive wins over South Granville, Warren County and Roanoke Rapids. The defense was giving up an average of less than 12 points before Franklinton hung 37.
Young said around 10 turnovers were the culprit in the loss to the Red Rams and he is still confident in the Raiders’ defensive unit. But he won’t make the mistake of being overconfident.
“This team is the No. 2 seed in the playoffs,” said Young. “You can’t go in but so confident. But I definitely think we would prefer the running attack than the passing attack.”
According to a Wilmington Star-News report, South Columbus came out throwing in its last game at 1-A Whiteville (9-2). But the Stallions went back to their bread and butter, pounding their way to a league-clinching 30-15 win.
Seniors Reggie Frink and Dashaun Daniels each rushed for two touchdowns and South Columbus didn’t attempt a pass after halftime. Frink had 117 yards on eight carries and Daniels finished with 81 yards on 21 carries.
“We just decided we were going to do it,” Daniels told The Star-News. “We wanted to pound the ball down their throats until they quit, really.”
Young said the Stallions’ Wing-T approach reminds him of Bunn. The Raiders fell to the Wildcats 41-12.
The three losses for South Columbus were to 4-A Wilmington Hoggard, Loris, S.C. and Three Rivers opponent Saint Pauls.
The Stallions are averaging 42.6 points and allowing 21 while Southern is putting up 19.5 points and conceding 24.5.
Deon and Sheldon Smith are enjoying Southern’s role as the underdog against a program that has gone 45-18 in five seasons under head coach Jake Fonvielle.
Deon Smith said the Raiders aren’t ready for football season to end yet.
“Everybody that’s doubting us, we can always prove them wrong,” added Sheldon. “Do our best and play Raider football. Don’t let them get momentum. We keep all the momentum to our side and we can win.”
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