West Craven, Havelock to meet in third-round bout

VANCEBORO | Craven County rivals Havelock and West Craven are two wins away from playing for a state championship. After Friday, only one of those programs will continue to pursue their goal.

The Rams and Eagles will meet for the second time ever in the postseason at 7:30 p.m. at Clay Jordan Stadium in Vanceboro. The winner gets to host an NCHSAA 3-A state semifinal game next week.

“The rivalry is going to be a lot bigger now that this is in the playoffs,” said West Craven quarterback Jarred Arthur. “You are talking about a lot more serious stuff when you are talking about the playoffs and having a chance to go to states.

“The winner of this gets to play to go to states so I think this is the biggest game in this matchup.”

Havelock leads the all-time series, 35-16, dating back to 1958 when West Craven High was Farm Life High. The Rams also have a 43-game road win streak at stake, going back to a 36-28 loss at Kinston in 2009.

“We need to continue to get better. We’ve gotten better every week this year,” said Havelock coach Jim Bob Bryant. “We are playing a really good West Craven team and we know how good they are.

“It’s going to be a fun game to coach in and a fun game for Craven County. Two of the best teams in the state are playing each other Friday night.”

West Craven (12-0), the top-seed in the East Region, ended Havelock’s seven-year Coastal 3-A title reign.

The Eagles snapped their eight-game losing streak to the Rams with a 28-21 win in Havelock on Oct. 24, a game that started on Oct. 6 and finished nearly three weeks later because of the flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew.

“They are as advertised. They are big, strong, fast, athletic and well-coached,” said West Craven coach Mike Twichell. “They are really good on offense and defense. I think we are mirror images of each other and I think the game is going to be decided the way it was last time, on special teams or a big play here and there.”

Twichell said he expects a big boost from the community’s support during Eagles’ home game.

“It’s a big plus, but I don’t think it means much to Havelock to have it here because once the whistle blows, it’s all blocked out. I think it’s huge for our community to be here,” Twichell said. “They’ve supported us so well this year. To be able to play this game here, it’s great for the community.”

The previous time West Craven won a conference title, in 2008, the Eagles reached the state championship game in Winston-Salem.

The state championship game is once again at BB&T Field, home of Wake Forest’s football team.

“We haven’t been here as a group. This is big for us as a senior-led group,” Arthur said. “The mentality is to win and that’s been our mentality all year. We are going to come out and do what we have to do to get the win.”

Havelock (12-1), the No. 3 seed, beat West Craven, 49-7, in the second round of the 2014 playoffs – the schools’ only other postseason battle. Havelock made it to the state championship game that year, but lost to Shelby Crest.

“I think we have a great group of seniors, really willing to lead and take charge. I trust my fellow seniors to get the job done and lead this team,” said Havelock quarterback Corey Cooper.

Cooper, a senior, has passed for 2,358 yards this season with 20 touchdowns to nine interceptions, while rushing for 735 yards and nine scores. Running back Cameron Hutchinson has 11 rushing touchdowns and Solomon Beligotti has 10.

Havelock senior wide receiver Quinzel Lockhart has a team-high 49 catches for 779 receiving yards and six touchdowns. The Rams are averaging 40.1 points per game.

Havelock’s defense is led by defensive lineman Destin Flloyd, who has 87 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Linebacker Tyiyon Johnson has a team-high 91 tackles and safety Jeffrey Harris intercepted three passes in last week’s 14-7 win over Orange in the second round of the playoffs.

The Rams are giving up 11.1 points per game.

“We have a lot of motivation. We are trying to get past this game, but we are taking it one game at a time,” Harris said. “I’m just really excited that we get to see them in the third round.”

Arthur, West Craven’s senior quarterback, passed for 236 yards and accounted for three touchdowns in last week’s 36-7 win over Eastern Alamance. Darious Abrams scored two touchdowns, while Eric Best and JonQuez Green scored touchdowns.

West Craven is averaging more than 45 points per game.

On defense, the Eagles are allowing teams to score 14 points per game, but have only given up 14 points total in two playoff games.

“We’ve been up for these games all year. I think that’s a big testament to why we are 12-0. Havelock can easily say the same thing, they are a 12-win football team just like we are,” Twichell said. “These teams have really good coaching staffs, really good athletes. It’s going to be a classic Craven County brawl that you’ve been seeing since probably the early 2000s.”

The winner plays host to either Rocky Mount or Southern Guilford in the NCHSAA 3-A East Finals.

Havelock at West Craven

Game: Third round, NCHSAA 3-A playoffs

When: 7:30 p.m., Friday

Where: Clay Jordan Stadium, Vanceboro

All-time: 35-16, Havelock

Previous meeting: West Craven won, 28-21, on Oct. 24

Head coaches: Havelock – Jim Bob Bryant (117-15, ninth year); West Craven – Mike Twichell (12-0, first year)

Key players: Havelock – QB Corey Cooper, WR Quinzel Lockhart, LB/RB Solomon Beligotti, LB Tyiyon Johnson, DL Destin Flloyd, OL Avery Jones, DB Montrece Gatling, DB Jeffrey Harris; West Craven – QB Jarred Arthur, WR Darious Abrams, RB JonQuez Green, DL Shaundre Mims, DL Claron Mims, LB Jayson McDonald.

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