MOREHEAD CITY — The truncated 2020-2021 football season is set to begin Friday with two county teams at home and another on the road.
Below is a quick look at each school’s upcoming week one matchup:
The Cougars will open their season at home against 3A Jacksonville, their only nonconference opponent of the season.
The Cardinals finished last season 7-4 overall and 3-2 in a tough 3A Coastal Conference, but Croatan football coach Andrew Gurley welcomes the challenge.
“We couldn’t play Lejeune because they forfeited their season,” Gurley said. “We had a handful of teams to pick from. We chose this game because we know they’re well-coached and it will help us get better.”
Gurley hasn’t had an opportunity to look at tape of Jacksonville, but he has a pretty good idea of what to expect. The two teams have not played each other since 2000.
“We know they’re going to be athletic and quick,” Gurley said. “We have an idea of what they’re going to run offensively, but they also have a new offensive coordinator so we’ll have to see. Defensively, they’ll be well-coached. Hopefully we’ll trade some film and get a look at what they’ve got. We know they’re ready. We need to be ready, too.”
Croatan will jump right into its 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference schedule in week two with a visit from Southwest Onslow. This year, due to the shortened season, a conference championship is the only guarantee of reaching the state playoffs.
“It’s a nonconference game, thankfully, so it doesn’t mean anything in the scope of the conference and playoffs,” Gurley said. “I want to see us get better and shake off the rust. We scheduled this game to make us better.”
The Mariners will open their season on Friday with a home game against 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference opponent Pender.
East will be without a few key players, including starting quarterback Jacob Nelson. The sophomore is a member of the school’s boys basketball team, which is 10-0 and in the 1A state playoffs.
The Mariners played the first round of the playoffs on Tuesday, with the second round scheduled for Thursday and the third slated for Saturday. East coach B.J. Frazier isn’t trying to force too much from those players who are playing for both programs.
“I’m not going to try and short-change the basketball team or the guys who have been coming to practice and deserve a chance to play on Friday,” Frazier said.
Like East, Pender has struggled to produce adequate numbers for a jayvee program and has struggled to find a scrimmage partner.
“I’m not sure if they’ve scrimmaged or anything,” Frazier said. “I haven’t heard anything. I know they’re in the same situation as us with numbers, so they may not have had the chance to scrimmage. They also have some basketball guys still playing, so that might be a factor.”
Frazier pointed out that, while his numbers are low, his roster of 30 is still larger than last year’s. Still, the smaller group, plus the absence of the basketball players, has opened the door for younger players to fill the void and progress.
“Our kids have really come along, especially in their physicality,” Frazier said. “A lot of them hit growth spurts, and they’ve put on some weight. That’s always a plus. They’ve been in the weight room a lot, and they’re working hard.”
On Friday, when Pender comes to town, Frazier is looking for those younger kids to knuckle down and face the challenge with confidence.
“I want to see resiliency,” Frazier said. “We’re going to be playing this game without some of our primary players, so our younger guys are going to have to step up and get their hands dirty outside of practice. I want to see them overcome the adversity. Pender is well-coached, so we’re going to need to be ready.”
East will play its lone nonconference game on Friday, March 5 at home against Richlands.
The Patriots will battle nonconference foe Farmville Central for the fourth straight year on Friday when they hit the road to visit the Jaguars.
West has gone 3-0 against Farmville, which finished last season 0-11. The Jaguars were unable to scrimmage this season due to COVID-19 complications from the opposing team, so West coach Daniel Barrow is relying on recent experience in preparation.
“We’ve played them the last four or five years, so we’re familiar with them,” Barrow said. “All we can do is press forward and clean up our stuff as best we can.”
West is coming off a 5-6 season and has holes still to fill on its depth chart with limited experience. For now, Barrow just wants his team to focus on the fundamentals in their first of seven regular season games.
“I want to see us execute and play clean football,” Barrow said. “We want to play fast, physical and mistake-free. That kind of stuff is tough to see in week one, but we’ve only got seven weeks, so we have to clean it up quick.”
The Patriots will play two nonconference contests – the second against Rosewood on Friday, March 5 – before beginning 3A Coastal Conference play on Friday, March 12 at Havelock.