For the first time since 2016, the Person High School varsity football team will be playing for sole possession of first place in the conference on an October Friday night.
To do so, the Rockets (5-2, 3-0) will have to clear Central Conference reigning champion Eastern Alamance, tomorrow night, in Mebane at 7 p.m.
The Eagles (6-1, 3-0), ranked third among 3A East teams, are coming off a 63-0 dismantling of Cedar Ridge in which seven different players scored a touchdown.
“It’s a big game,” Person head coach Carl Smith Jr. said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity and experience to play in a big-time game for first place, nonetheless against one of the better opponents in 3A. This is what you play football for – the stage.”
Eastern downed 1A power Eastern Randolph, 42-27, to begin the year. The Eagles beat rival Southern Alamance, 28-14, then squeaked by Northern Guilford, 41-35, in their first road game.
Eastern lost to 2A power Reidsville by a 35-28 mark on the road, then won a pair of close games against Alamance County rivals Western Alamance (22-16) and Walter M. Williams (20-17).
“They’re a spread team for the most part, but what they’re trying to do is run the ball,” Smith said of Eastern’s offense. “They throw it a little more then we like to, but they like to run the ball a lot. They have 3-4 wide receivers on the field, but they run the ball a majority of the time. Defensively, they run 4-3 and 5-2 schemes and they’re going to get after it. They’re a very strong, disciplined and well-coached team.”
The Eagles are led on offense by the two-headed rushing attack of Tyrek Samuel and Joshua Murray.
Samuel is tops in the conference with 984 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Murray is fifth in the conference with 483 yards, plus third with seven rushing touchdowns.
“We’ve got to rally to the football,” Smith said of slowing down Eastern’s run game. “Not one individual is going to stop their weapons. They’re very good and talented. They focus on running the football. We need to make sure we’re all gang tackling. As long as we run to the football, we feel like we have a pretty good chance.”
Person enters with a solid run game of its own.
Daejon Hodge is fresh off a 264-yard, three touchdown performance in a 41-3 stomping of Orange Friday. This was his first game back since Aug. 26 against Halifax, when he dislocated his left shoulder.
Daveon Marner joined the rushing party late against the Panthers, running for 78 yards and a score. Julian Crawley, who turned heads with his four-touchdown performance at Northwood two weeks ago, caught four passes for 47 yards and a score against Orange.
Quarterback Elijah Palmer enjoyed his third-consecutive game with a touchdown pass.
“Going into a battle like tomorrow, nobody expects it to be a shootout,” Smith said. “It’s going to be about execution and rep for rep. It’s less about the weapons we have, it’s more about who executes better. We’ve got some cleaning up to do to make sure we execute at a high level, but we have a shot against anybody in the state with the weapons we have.”
The Rockets will be getting starting middle linebacker Kiryce McCain back for tomorrow’s clash. He sat out the Orange game due to an ejection against Northwood.
Add McCain into the mix with Victor Rodriguez and Zikeus Moore, who stepped up in his absence and Smith has a stout defense he knows can slow Eastern’s attack down.
“Kiryce is one of our better defensive players,” Smith said. “We also have a lot of younger linebackers coming into their own right and we’re still getting better. I felt like Victor, being forced to play that middle linebacker role last week, he did a great job of reading. Zikeus replaced Victor in the SAM linebacker role. Even though he missed a couple reads, he filled the gaps correctly. We still have some things to clean up and make sure our eyes are in the right place.”
Person’s ultimate goal is to make the postseason for the first time since 2016. The Rockets are currently clinging to a playoff spot, sitting 32 in the NCHSAA’s 3A East RPI rankings.
Just like last week, Smith only wants his players to take their season one game at a time.
“They’re been doing a great job of that so far,” Smith said. “Nobody is thinking or talking about playoffs other than the goal itself. Everybody is focused on Eastern Alamance. We understand the challenge they bring and we’re not afraid of them. We knew we can execute at a high level. We have to focus on details and our playmakers have to make plays. We have to focus on what we can control right not. We’re looking forward to Friday and seeing where the chips may fall after that.”
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