Rams turn focus toward Richlands

HAVELOCK | The Havelock Rams will finish their season without school-record holding running back Tony Sharpe who transferred to East Carteret this week.

Sharpe broke Havelock’s single-season rushing record for yards and touchdowns as a sophomore in 2014 as the Rams made it to their fourth-consecutive state championship game.

He led the Rams in rushing yards the previous two seasons, and was tops on the team with 738 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Over the past three years, Sharpe racked up 4,430 yards and 72 touchdowns, including nearly 2,300 rushing yards and 38 scores two seasons ago.

Sharpe, listed at 5-foot-8, 190 pounds, played the first half of Havelock’s suspended game against West Craven on Oct. 6 with gained 21 yards. He racked up three 100-yard rushing games this season.

Havelock assistant coach Matt Handley confirmed that Sharpe’s father withdrew him from Havelock High on Monday.

That pushes sophomore Cameron Hutchinson and senior Montrece Gatling up the depth chart at running back. Hutchinson has eight rushing touchdowns and 283 yards.

The top-ranked Rams (7-0, 2-0 Coastal 3-A), with four games remaining in the regular-season, play at Richlands on Friday.

East Carteret (8-1, 3-0 Coastal Plains), ranked eighth in the latest NCHSAA 1-A Associated Press Poll, is coached by former Havelock assistant coach Caleb King.

On Monday, the Rams (7-0, 2-0 Coastal 3-A) will finish their suspended game against West Craven, trailing 7-0 at halftime.

But first, they travel to Richlands for a conference clash at 7 p.m. on Friday.

“We always feel pretty good, but are kids are always good about improving week-to-week,” said Handley. “We are still working toward where we want to be.”

The Rams haven’t played a snap since their contest against West Craven was halted by storms and constant rain back on Oct. 6.

They had a scheduled bye week last week.

“I think we are anxious to get back out and hit someone in a different color jersey,” Handley said. “The kids have handled it pretty well. It’s a pretty senior-led group so they are able to self-police a lot of stuff.”

The Rams have won 35-straight conference games and seven-straight conference titles.

They average 40 points per game on offense, and have scored at least 28 points in each game, while allowing 10 points per game on defense.

“It makes us want to come out and play harder, not make any mistakes, be perfect and do everything right,” said Rams’ junior Khalil Barrett. “This is a statement game for everyone else. Everyone is trying to beat us. We have to keep working hard and not sleep on anybody.”

Richlands (1-7, 1-2) won its first game after beating Swansboro in a shootout, 71-48.

The Wildcats’ offense is powered by Tiaseer Cruz, with 848 yards and four 100-yard games. Matt Westlake and Joey Marks Jr. both have at least 300 rushing yards and five touchdowns apiece.

“They run an offense that you don’t normally see with the single wing,” Handley said. “They have some big offensive linemen. They just ran for something like 800 yards last week, it was crazy.

“We are going to have to be physical on both sides of the ball. They have some big guys and their skilled guys are tough and will stick their nose in there.”

Havelock’s defense has 22 takeaways with 11 sacks. Tyiyon Johnson has a team-high tackle.

“We have to play our best game each week. We can’t take any plays or any games off. We have to play to our highest level,” Gatling said.

Senior quarterback Corey Cooper has 1,348 passing yards with 12 touchdowns to eight interceptions, while rushing for 259 yards for four scores.

Quinzel Lockhart has a team-high 30 receptions for 475 yards. Barrett has 313 receiving yards.

“Each week, practice gets tougher. The intensity picks up even more. We have to keep going up,” Gatling said.

Adam Thompson is the sports editor at the Sun Journal. He can be contacted at 252-635-5669. Follow Adam on Twitter @A_ThompsonNBSJ