MOREHEAD CITY — The West Carteret and Croatan football teams will be at home this week, while East Carteret hits the road.

With the playoffs just a little over two weeks away, all three county teams will play crucial matchups. The Patriots will host Swansboro, the Cougars welcome Dixon and the Mariners will be at Southside.

WEST CARTERET

The Patriots (5-2 overall, 3-0 in conference) are on a four-game win streak, and one more could push them into uncharted territory.

A win on Friday would give them at least a share of the 3A Coastal Conference championship, their first league title in 57 years. A win on Friday and a win the next week against Croatan would give them an outright championship.

To do that, they’ll have to beat a Swansboro (4-3 overall, 3-0 in conference) team full of confidence after three straight wins, the last being 42-38 over Croatan.

“The (Pirates are) doing good things right now,” West coach Daniel Barrow said. “They hang in there tight, and they pull it out in the end. They’re a gritty bunch. They’re much improved. They have a lot of guys back from that team last year, and they’ve gotten a lot better in the last five months.”

The Pirates are a pass-happy team, with quarterback Hunter Johnson completing 80 passes so far this season for 1,112 yards with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. His leading receivers are Isaiah Bromelle with 24 catches for 327 yards and two scores, Amare Caines with 22 catches for 274 yards and two scores and Tayshaun Thompkins with 16 catches for 250 yards and one score.

“They have some really good speed on the outside. The way that they throw the ball, they do it all over the place. You just don’t know where the ball is going to go. Our guys have to be on it every play. If you get one lapse in the secondary, it’s six points the other way.”

He added, “They do a good job getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly. We have to get good pressure up front and be relentless.”

The run game only accounts for 33 percent of the offense’s total yards, but Jace Wilkens has been a reliable runner with 350 yards and five touchdowns.

The two teams run similar offenses, so Barrow knows the Swansboro defense will have a good idea on how to combat the Patriots’ attack.

“They’ve been practicing against a scheme like ours since August,” Barrow said, “so they’re going to be comfortable with it.”

Even if the offense faces a tough challenge, defense has been the sticking point for West. The unit allowed 31.3 points per game through the first three weeks, but since then, it’s averaging just 12.3 points allowed.

“I feel like the defense has really come alive,” West coach Daniel Barrow said. “We still need to clean up the turnovers on offense. If we don’t fix that, we’re going to run into trouble.”

West’s offense has been a balanced one this season, with the run game producing 1,188 yards and the passing game 854. Quarterback Jamarion Montford has 831 yards on 59 completions with eight touchdowns and four interceptions.

His leading receivers have been Justice Dadeel with 15 catches for 289 yards and two touchdowns, and Spencer Maxwell with 11 catches for 191 yards and three scores.

Montford also leads the ground game with 409 yards and six touchdowns. Josh Mason is the team’s top running back with 355 yards and four scores.

EAST CARTERET

The Mariners (3-4 overall, 2-1 in conference) probably weren’t expecting to hit a win streak for the rest of the season after losing four straight, but that’s where they are after defeating Pamlico County 21-8 on Friday.

Now, East is on a mission to win out the regular season in order to book a ticket to the state playoffs. A loss this week to Southside (6-1 overall, 2-1 in conference) or a loss next week to Lejeune would likely eliminate a postseason appearance.

The Seahawks are a tough task for the Mariners, currently in second place of the 1A/2A Coastal Plains Conference but ranked No. 2 in the 1A east by the new RPI ratings. Speed is one of their biggest strengths according to East coach B.J. Frazier.

“They’re a fast group,” he said. “I remember seeing some of these kids running track last year. The two wingbacks, they can fly.”

Frazier is talking about Kenjray Coffield, who has 750 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, and TeQuon Moore, who has 456 yards and seven scores. The Seahawks have two more runners – Keywon Campbell and Jamie Corprew with 200-plus yards and three touchdowns apiece.

The passing game isn’t a strong part of the Southside offense with quarterback Walker Hill only throwing six passes for 130 yards, three scores and as many interceptions.

“They don’t pass the ball much,” Frazier said. “They run the ball a lot. Since the West Carteret game, everyone we’ve played has mostly run the ball. I don’t think we ‘ve seen more than 10 passes since the Croatan game.”

The Mariners will continue to lean on senior running back Miguel Bassotto and the run game. However, sophomore quarterback Darren Piner has grown each week since entering the starting rotation in week three. He threw two touchdowns in the pivotal win last week.

“We’ve been getting better week to week, especially as Darren gets more comfortable under center,” Frazier said. “We were going three-and-out a lot in some of those losses, and the defense had to stay out on the field. This week, we’ll try to throw the ball a little bit more, hopefully take some pressure off the corners and give Miguel some running room.”

The Mariners only suited up 20 against Pamlico, but Frazier is looking to get three players back by Tuesday or today in preparation for the game on Friday.

CROATAN

The Cougars (3-5 overall, 1-2 in conference) took a step back in the 3A Coastal Conference standings last week with the loss to Swansboro. A matchup at home against Dixon is just the medicine it needs.

The Bulldogs (1-5 overall, 0-3 in conference) are having a down year, scoring just 14.3 points per game while allowing 51.4 per game from their opponents. Take away a 52-32 win over Heide Trask, and the Bulldogs’ points-per-game average drops to just 8.5.

“They’re having a similar year as we are,” Croatan coach Andrew Gurley said. “They’re not getting a lot of breaks in wins and losses.”

Gurley’s team is coming off a heartbreaker of a loss to the Pirates, but he says his guys are in good spirits.

“I think they knew that game could have gone either way,” he said. “We had a good practice (on Monday), and we’re looking ahead to Friday.”

After facing a high-flying offense last week, the Cougars will see a mostly run-exclusive game from the Bulldogs, led by two backs with 200-plus yards and a pair of touchdowns. J’ziah Hinton has rushed for 260 yards and Xavier Peaks for 230.

“They used to be a team that would throw it all around,” Gurley said. “They were probably 60-40 pass to run. Now, they’re completely opposite. They’re probably a 60-80 percent run team. We’re still pretty banged up in the secondary, so it plays to our style.”

He added, “They’re going to spread you out and run the ball. Their offensive line impressed us on film. They do a good job putting a hat on a hat and blocking.”

The Cougars know all about running the ball – they only ran three plays for the entire game at Swansboro, two of them power runs. Alex Barnes leads the way with 509 yards and four touchdowns, Brayden Stephens has 448 yards and five scores, while Quincy Doneghy has 213 yards and five scores.

Quarterback Evan King, who has been injured since week seven, could see a return to the field. He has a team-high 198 passing yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. Otherwise, Caden Barrett will be under center. The junior has passed for 38 yards and run for 136 yards and four touchdowns this season.

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