The Person High School football team opens the second half of its season Thursday night in a position to take a big step towards accomplishing one major goal coach Carl Smith Jr. set before the start of the year --- make the playoffs.
The Rockets will travel to Northwood tonight for a key Central Conference matchup. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and was moved up a day because of the rain threat from the imminent landfall of Hurricane Ian in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Chargers (3-3, 1-1) enter tonight’s game fresh off a 63-6 road stomping of Cedar Ridge Friday night --- the same team Person defeated, 76-8 two week ago. The Rockets were off last week following their win in which the team broke four school records including most points scored in a game and largest margin of victory.
“It was very impressive,” Person (3-2, 1-0) head coach Carl Smith Jr. said. “I’m proud of the guys. They worked really hard and that started to show.”
Northwood begane its season with a 53-20 road loss against 3A power Lee County, responded by thumping Jordan-Matthews 52-0, lost in a high-scoring, 55-35 clash with Chapel Hill High, squeaked by Seaforth 12-7, then found themselves on the wrong end of a 57-7 outing against Williams.
“Preparing for Northwood is the same process,” Smith said. “It doesn’t change from week-to-week. We zero in on whoever we’re playing Friday. We’ve done a good job all year of that. I have complete faith in my players to put the Cedar Ridge game behind them and focus on the next challenge.”
Person is currently ranked 29th in the NCHSAA’s 3A East RPI rankings, while Northwood is 32nd.
The top 64 teams from each classification – 32 from the East and 32 more from the West, make the state playoffs.
The Rockets have not made the postseason since 2016.
“A win is very important,” Smith said. “At this time of year in conference, every win is important, no matter who the opponent is. We’re continuing to grow and meet our goals. We’re fighting to accomplish that goal of making the state playoffs this year. One thing that would help is beating Northwood, which we have every intention of doing.”
Northwood defeated Person, 21-7 when the teams met last season for the first time and conference foes, but Smith expects to see a different team on the field this time around.
“They’ve got a couple different front defensively – 4-man and 5-man,” Smith said about Northwood. “They’re more of a spread-style offense now, but have the ability to go to the Wing-T. They’ve got new athletes and a new coaching staff, so they’re still learning and growing, but they’ve definitely got a good amount of talent. They’ll be a good test for us.”
Person enjoyed its bye week last Friday, which Smith highlighted was extra-helpful for a smaller team like his.
“We (coaches) gave them (players) a couple extra days off, making sure they had a really long weekend to recover from bumps and bruises,” Smith said. “This week, they have to make sure we do a really good job of conditioning. We need to make sure we’re being loose, breaking the monotony of football season and running the gauntlet for the rest of the year. We’ve accomplished everything we’ve wanted to so far and we’re still getting better.”
Smith is looking at special teams ace Zikeus Moore, starting quarterback Elijah Palmer and starting cornerback Isaiah Smith to have strong performances in leading the Rockets.
“It’s really hard to zero in on guys because from what we’ve seen so far, we’ve had really good performances from a lot of good kids,” Smith said. “Zikeus, however, is one of those kids who’s really come into his own. He’s had a huge impact of winning. He’s not a starter, but he gets a lot of game reps and impacts winning at a pretty high level. Elijah is showing growth and maturity – he’s moving in the right direction. Isaiah is one of the better athletes on our team. He’s doing a great job at corner and getting more reps at wide receiver. He’s moving in the right direction.”
The offensive line, however, will be the greatest area of focus.
“Our offensive line has a better understanding what’s asked of us,” Smith said. “They have a good grip on who needs to play where. They’re growing and molding together. If those things continue to improve, I like where we’re going.”
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