LAURINBURG — Moving into Friday’s third-round match up against top-seeded Scotland County, the Hoggard Vikings football team has been road tested with back-to-back wins away from home, but this week’s contest in Laurinburg will be an entirely different beast.
The Scots are a perennial favorite out of the east region nearly every year in the 4A playoffs. Led by division one talent at the running back position and at quarterback, Scotland County possesses the weapons needed to advance into the east regional.
Hoggard, winners of six straight moving into the 7:30 p.m. kickoff, will be well prepared and ready to compete. The resiliency of this bunch after a 1-4 start has been impressive. While the Vikings started off slow, Coach Craig Underwood knew many of the miscues and mistakes that led to their uphill battle were all things the team could sure up heading into crunch time.
The team camaraderie built over the past few months has played an enormous role in Hoggard’s run. From the coaching staff to its players, game place and execution are two things guiding the Vikings as the boys from Shipyard Boulevard look to clinch a spot in the final four of the state.
Hoggard is no stranger to December football following their last appearance in the eastern regional coming just two years back.
Quarterback Josh Jones has come into his own as the second-year signal caller. The junior has complete nearly 60 percent of his passes this season for over 2,000 yards. After throwing for 358 yards in the playoff opener, Jones needed to complete just 7-of-14 attempts for 173 yards and one touchdown last week as the Hoggard ground attack took over.
The balance of the Vikings offense makes the unit tough to game plan for. Tony Allen and Rashod Wallace are both 1,000 yard running backs, with Collin Hairr (31 catches, 575 yards, 7TD), Tre Houser (36 catches, 352 yards), Patrick Morrison (14 catches, 197 yards), Chet Radack (27 catches, 418 yards) and C.J. Pipken (11 catches, 103yards) serving as multiple threats in the passing game.
Hoggard’s success in putting up big numbers comes as of late has come in large part due to an experienced front line led by Labib Ismail, Pantelis Poulos and Alex Halkais.
On the defensive side of the ball, an important part of the Vikings playoff run has been the ability to get off to a good start. With the offense putting up points early and often, Hoggard’s defense has been able to string together enough stops to gain enough separation to survive and move on.
Cullum Crowley, McKenzie Frazier and Landon Romano have helped the defense gel with tough play up front, while Keon Bradley, Isaiah Kemp and Reece Moulton continue to make plays in the secondary.
The third facet of football has also greatly improved throughout the course of the season. Special teams whether it be the field goal unit with Will Morton getting the place kicking and punting duties ironed out, to punt and kickoff coverage, Hoggard has got back to what has made the Vikings sound over the year with strong special teams play.
Scotland County, however, presents an enormous challenge. With nearly all of Scotland County expected to be at Friday’s game, Hoggard will go into an environment it’s not familiar with. Despite going on the road for a pair of two-plus hour bus ride in the weeks prior and coming home with wins, dealing with a raucous crowd in Laurinburg will be just one of many challenges facing the Vikings.
The Scots are 13-0 and have not played in a close game all season. Scotland ran over New Hanover 41-14 early in the year, with impressive, 47-8, and 66-28, results to open the postseason.
Led by highly touted division I prospect Zamir White, who has 1,270 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns after missing the first four games of the season, Scotland County is averaging 300 yards on the ground per game. White is reportedly getting looks from big time programs such as Ohio State.
While White presents the biggest test, showcasing ability to score from anywhere on the field with seven 100-plus yard games, Hoggard will also be asked to limit another 1,000 yard rusher in sophomore Syheam Mcqueen. He and quarterback Sergio Gibson give the Scots multiple threats in the backfield. Mcqueen has a team-high 20 trips to the end zone. Gibson has 13 touchdowns passes and zero interceptions.
Keys to a Hoggard win
- The Vikings need to continue their streak of fast starts. The offense has to get on the board and keep the momentum rolling until late in the game. Hoggard wants to sustain drives, convert on third down and score touchdowns, not field goals.
- Scotland County is going to move the football. Zamir White is going to make his fair share of big plays. Getting stops on third down and forcing maybe one or two turnovers will be crucial for the Vikings defense.
- Special teams has let up its fair share of kick returns this season. Make Scotland County drive the length of the field. Touchdowns in the return game or giving the Scots a short field could be a difference maker.