Week 1 Preview: Northern hosts Ravenscroft in season opener

Aug. 20, 2014 @ 10:54 PM

Football season kicks off Friday with three area schools in action.

Northern Vance hosts Ravenscroft while Southern Vance travels to Elizabeth City Northeastern and Webb visits county rival Granville Central. Warren County opens its season next week at Northern Vance.

The outlook isn’t positive based on previous success and players returning; Coaches in the 3-A Big Eight Conference picked Webb to finish sixth and Northern last while 2-A Northern Carolina coaches predicted a fifth-place finish for Warren County and last for Southern.

Southern was the only area team to make the state playoffs last season, falling to Eastern Randolph in the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 2-A playoffs.

The Raiders, who have five consecutive playoff appearances, lost 13 starters including nine on offense.

Warren County owns the longest area postseason drought at six seasons, Northern hasn’t made it in five and Webb last clinched a berth in 2010.

Optimism from coaches and players was high in preseason practices and scrimmages and each team is confident wins are on the way.

It starts on Friday with Northern seeking to end the longest active losing streak in the state at 21 games.

Head coach Eric Watkins wants the community to show support at Viking Stadium.

“They’ve been working hard and really, they’re very smart kids,” said Watkins. “They worked harder this summer than the last two summers. The kids have really put the dedication in. I think it’s going to be a big crowd this week.”

Things to watch in Week 1:

VIKINGS ON DEFENSE: Watkins likes the way his offense is gelling, but was concerned with the defense following last Saturday’s Pigskin Jamboree at Southern. 

“We’ve been concentrating on defense, especially tackling the last two days,” Watkins said on Tuesday.

Northern allowed at least 21 points in each contest last season and gave up more than 40 in six games.

Michael Spinner, Tyrrick Bullock, LaDarrious Hargrove and Jonas Simmons have been among the Vikings’ preseason defensive leaders.

OFFENSIVE PUNCH: Defense is less of a concern at Southern, where the Raiders’ front seven should stand out.

The Raiders have plenty of rebuilding to do on offense after losing nine of 11 starters, including at each skill position.

“They have been coming around,” said Southern head coach Lewis Young. “We have three freshmen on offense. It’s just a matter of getting the young guys acclimated to what we do.”

The new quarterback is Jerry Throckmorton, who got some reps last season when starter Ty-Traveon Roberts was injured.

James Gibbs is Southern’s primary ball carrier.

TALL TASK: Northeastern, the favorite in the 2-A Northeastern Coastal Conference, rolled to a 43-0 win at Southern last season.

The Eagles advanced to the regional round of the playoffs in 2013 and are expected to compete for a state title this season.

“We know how talented they are,” said Young. “Going into this game, we know we have our work cut out for us.”

Young said it’s difficult to simulate in practice Northeastern’s size and athleticism.

The Eagles’ Ge’Dari Liverman, listed as an athlete, is the preseason pick for Northeastern Coastal Conference Player of the Year.

QUARTERBACK BATTLE: Webb has narrowed down the competition at signal caller to Michael Phillips and Tre Harris and head coach Tony Midgette said Phillips has a slight edge to win the job in Week 1.

“It’s exactly what it is,” said Midgette. “It’s a battle. Both guys are doing pretty good.”

Phillips saw some time last season when Beau Smith went down with an injury, but Harris’ athleticism is keeping him in the race.

“If either one had to go in and take snaps, I think we’d be in good shape,” said Midgette.

PERFECT WARRIORS: Webb looks to improve to 6-0 all-time against Granville Central of the 1-A Tar-Roanoke Conference.

The Warriors won 29-14 last season and have dominated three of the five matchups with the closest contest coming in 2011, a 27-21 Webb win.

Granville Central was 7-5 last season, falling to Princeton in the first round of the state playoffs.

“They’re going to be well-coached,” said Midgette. “They have some very good athletes over there. We’re definitely trying to know where they are and make sure we’re in the right spots on defense.”

Contact the writer at kholtzman@hendersondispatch.com.