West Craven, Havelock are led by senior QBs

VANCEBORO | Corey Cooper and Jarred Arthur don’t know each other personally away from the football field.

On the field, they are senior quarterbacks on rival programs.

Cooper’s Havelock Rams will travel to Arthur’s West Craven Eagles on Friday in the third round of the NCHSAA 3-A playoffs.

They are the focal points on offense with a trip to the Eastern Finals on the line, two wins away from advancing to the state championship game in Winston-Salem.

“Jarred is a great guy, I don’t know him personally, but I’ve heard great things about him,” said Cooper, the Havelock’s second-year starting signal-caller. “He is a great quarterback and a great ballplayer. I’m excited to see what our defense can do to stop him.”

From afar, they respect each other’s game. They have a win over each other in the past two seasons.

Cooper guided Havelock to a 22-6 win over West Craven last season in Arthur’s first varsity start at quarterback. Then, earlier this season, Arthur led the Eagles to a 28-21 win.

“Corey is a good athlete, he’s one of the best in the league. It’s going to be a nice battle and I’m sure we are going to shake hands after the game,” Arthur said. “As a football community, we know each other. After last game, he came up to me and told me how good I did and I told him the same thing. He’s a real good athlete and a good person too.”

Cooper has passed for 2,358 yards with 20 touchdowns to nine interceptions, while gaining 735 rushing yards with nine scores. He threw for 145 yards and racked up 58 on the ground in Havelock’s 14-7 win over Orange in last week’s second-round game.

Cooper has been picked off just once in the past four games.

“He’s improved a lot. He’s taken care of the football,” Havelock coach Jim Bob Bryant said. “Friday night was the first time he turned the ball over in the past four games.

“He’s been controlling the offense and managing the game. He’s grown tremendously since the first game.”

Arthur passed for 236 yards with two touchdowns, and also scored a rushing touchdown, in last week’s 36-7 win over Eastern Alamance.

In two postseason games, he’s racked up 414 passing yards with three passing scores and only one interception.

“He’s tough, he’s a competitor. He’s a good decision-maker for us,” said West Craven coach Mike Twichell. “He wants the ball in his hands with the game on the line. I don’t know what else you could want from your quarterback.”

Cooper has two full years as Havelock’s starting quarterback and Arthur has a little more than a year at the position.

The area they’ve tried to mature at is with their leadership.

“As a leader, I have to keep motivating, study film, know my keys and be ready to attack at any opportunity,” Cooper said. “I’ve been working on my leadership abilities and slinging the rock a little better, but all of the credit goes to those o-linemen and the receivers making great plays.”

West Craven has dealt with adversity since the end of last season with the tragic death of two teammates, a coaching change and flooding from Hurricane Matthew.

As the senior quarterback, Arthur has had to rally his teammates.

“Whenever we lose focus at practice, I try to get everyone focused and going at a fast pace,” Arthur said. “I don’t like it when we slack off or aren’t focused.

“Our offense, we are real fast-paced and we go non-stop.”

Both quarterbacks have engineered their squads further than last season.

The winner of Friday’s game will host a semifinal game against either Rocky Mount or Southern Guilford.

Top-seeded West Craven enters this week’s game with a 12-0 record, and No. 3-seed Havelock (12-1) suffered its only loss against West Craven and has just two losses in the past two seasons.

“After the West Craven loss, I think the team turned over a new leaf,” Cooper said. “You could see the drive, the motivation, the dedication within the team that next week. I think that’s going to continue to carry us.”

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