Rams to host Burlington Williams in playoff game Friday
The offensive line wants to bully its opponent – push them back and move them out of the way.
The left side of Havelock’s front five towers over most defenses, with Avery Jones, at 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, and Will Spottsville, at 6-foot-5, 290 pounds, paving the way.
The Rams are averaging more than 435 yards per game behind their aggressive and physical line as they prepare to open the state 3A playoffs against Burlington Williams at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Havelock High.
“We try to get after it and get as many yards as we can,” said Jones, a junior. “We like to try to bully the opponent and get pancakes (blocks).”
Jones lines up at left tackle and Spottsville plays left guard. Senior Howie Baldree plays center, senior Gabrean Gaynor is at right guard and junior Patrick Pasquale is at right tackle.
“We’ve put in hard work and continue to get better and better. We are big and strong,” Spottsville said.
All five of them are playing different spots on the line than they did last season.
“We have five guys starting on the offensive line that did not play the position they did last year,” said Havelock coach Jim Bob Bryant. “It took us a little while to gel together, but we have a great offensive line coach in Tony Wray and he does a great job with them.
“They’ve all come along together. We’ve shuffled guys in and out because of injuries, but our five offensive linemen are really working together.”
The offensive line, whether it’s protecting the quarterback or opening running lanes, plays with an edge, anchored by Jones, who has nine Division-I college football offers.
Jones recently took a visit to Clemson, but also has offers from Virginia Tech, East Carolina, North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State, Vanderbilt, Missouri, Virginia and Wake Forest, while gaining major interest from others.
“I just try to do the best that I can and try to lead by example, not getting beat, keep my head up in tough times,” Jones said.
Baldree, who plays a leader role on the line at center, and Gaynor, are the unit’s lone seniors, joined by three juniors.
“I feel like the way we are doing things is going well, from fundamentals, technique and things like run blocking, pass blocking and opening the holes and staying on our blocks,” Baldree said.
Pasquale said the group is on a mission to help the Rams get back to the state championship game. The Rams made four straight appearances, winning three, from 2011 to 2014 but lost in the second round of the playoffs last year.
The Rams average 235 rushing yards per game, led by sophomore running back Cameron Hutchinson, who has 463 yards and 11 touchdowns. Justin Hoover, Montrece Gatling and Soloman Beligotti have also contributed to the rushing attack.
“We have to be more focused. If we lose, we don’t get another chance,” Pasquale said of the playoffs. “I’m trying to do what I can and be aggressive. We pride ourselves on our speed and getting our hands on people, and blocking for the run.”
Senior quarterback Corey Cooper has passed for 2,033 yards with 19 touchdowns to eight interceptions, while gaining 625 yards and eight scores on the ground.
“We have intensity and fire off the ball, and we are aggressive,” Gaynor said. “We have a bunch of guys playing new positions. We are all working hard to get better at each position.”
The Rams (10-1) are the No. 3 seed out of the East and play Williams, the No. 6 seed from the Mideast. The Bulldogs (6-5) haven’t played a game since Oct. 28, when they ended a three-game losing streak by beating winless Eden Morehead 48-0.
Williams averages 23.5 points per game behind quarterback Isaiah Coleman, who has thrown for 1,023 yards and 11 touchdowns while rushing for another 325 yards and two touchdowns. Shermar Thompson leads the Bulldog rushing attack with 1,075 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Defensively, Williams allows 14.6 points per game, and has recorded 28 sacks while forcing an average of two turnovers per game.
The winner plays the winner of the first-round matchup between No. 2 Orange (11-0) and No. 7 Wilson Fike (6-5).
Adam Thompson is the sports editor of the Sun Journal.