Lumberton, Sacred Heart meet in region contest

By CAMAL PETRO,

It’s been a tough couple of week for the Sacred Heart Crusaders, so Sacred Heart coach Lonny Schraeder is leaning on some advice he received from an old friend.

“You try to win one game a week, and that’s where we’re at this week,” Schraeder said. “We put that one behind us. My good friend Nevil Barr said, ‘That’s why you have your eyes in the front so you can move forward. Don’t look behind,’ so we’ll put that one behind us and work on this week. Be the best we can this week.”

But, it doesn’t get much easier when Lumberton (5-3, 2-0 in Region 4-1A) comes to town Friday night. In the last two games, the Crusaders (3-4, 0-2) have been outscored 96-6 to Resurrection and East Marion, but the Panthers currently hold the top position in the region after winning the 1A South State Championship last year.

“They’re the south state champions and they’re ‘the man’. They don’t look a whole lot different than they did last year,” Schraeder said.

The Panthers look a little different in the run game, though, than they have in the past couple of seasons. Instead of having one running back run for 2,000-plus yards in a season, Lumberton has four backs who can carry the ball.

Junior Davion Edwards, who is listed as a 5-foot-10, 200-pound back, leads the team with 475 yards and he’s second on the team with four touchdowns and 69 carries. Freshman Robert Henry is first on the team with 81 rushing attempts and seven touchdowns while he’s second with 462 yards. Junior quarterback Jared Tribett has added 205 yards on the ground, and seniors Krishaun Fairley and Rodriqus Coleman have proven to be good options, too.

“There are some positives and there are some negatives, at least to me,” Lumberton coach Zach Jones said of having running back by committee. “I thought we’ve kind of narrowed it down to a little bit to where two or three guys are carrying the football instead of five or six. I thought that’s kind of gotten us into a flow offensively the last four games. We’ll probably continue that route.”

Having five or six running backs carry the ball in a particular game makes it difficult to get into that flow offensively, but the positives of having fresh backs, especially in 1A football, can’t be underestimated.

“They keep them fresh,” Schraeder said. “It does (make it more challenging). They have a little bit more depth, so you have to try to do things to naturalize those people and take away what they do best. That’s what we’re going to try to do.”

Those Lumberton running backs will be running straight at Sacred Heart’s strength on defense, its defensive line. However, injuries to the Crusaders’ linebackers have made the defensive line less effective. The linemen do a good job of getting penetration and eating up space so the linebackers can come up and make the tackles. But, two key injuries have hurt the Crusaders.

“Those guys have all been playing for a couple of years,” Jones said of the Sacred Heart defensive line. “They’ve been through the battles and they have a lot of experience, so that definitely plays into their advantage. They’re physical up front, which I think you have to be physical on the defensive line if you want a chance to be good on defense.”

Junior linebacker Garrett Crowder is expected to play fully Friday, after only playing in limited action against East Marion. When healthy, he averaged more than 14 tackles a game, too.

On the offensive side of the ball, the once high-powered Crusaders’ offense has struggled the past couple of games with only six total points to show for their efforts. Injuries in key areas have been a main reason for that, though.

“It’s just part of our growth and maturity,” Schraeder said. “Two weeks ago, and against Resurrection and East Marion, you start running out of bodies. Football is a sport and sometimes you just have injuries. If you lose one or two key players, you’re in trouble.”

Jones still understands how dangerous the Sacred Heart passing game is, which is led by junior quarterback Zach Weatherell and senior receivers Joseph Bishop, Paul Rowell and Jeremiah Smith.

Jones didn’t see Weatherell or Smith in last year’s contest either.

“We have to be really disciplined in the secondary to get those guys covered because they do have some guys who can make plays and a quarterback who can get it to them,” Jones said.