Fans may look at Havelock’s first-round playoff opponent and see a 4-7 record. But that’s not what Coach Jim Bob Bryant sees.
Bryant sees Topsail as a big, physical team that lost games to tough 4A competition. He said the Rams simply can’t overlook the Pirates, who are scheduled to visit Havelock for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on Friday.
“They’re better than their record,” Bryant said. “They played in a 3A/4A league so they played against some good competition. Laney, New Hanover and Hoggard — that’s three really good 4A football teams that play in their conference, so they’re used to playing good competition.”
Havelock (11-0), the two-time defending state champs, enters the playoffs as the No. 1 seed. Topsail is the 16th seed, having secured a playoff spot by beating South Brunswick 13-7 on Nov. 1.
The Pirates have struggled offensively since the first two games of the season in which they scored 69 points. In the last nine games, Topsail has scored just 54 points and has been shut out four times.
Meanwhile, Havelock’s defense has posted six shutouts this season, allowing just six offensive touchdowns all year. Andrew Ramirez has 87 tackles to lead the Rams, who have come up with 23 turnovers.
Still, West Craven was able to move the ball against the Rams in last week’s game, a 21-7 Havelock victory. The Eagles totaled 17 first downs and 232 total yards, 166 of which came in the air.
“Blocking and tackling, we didn’t really do a good job of that on either side of the ball against West Craven,” Bryant said. “We attribute that to an open week (on Nov. 1), and West Craven played us good, but we’ve got to block and tackle better. We missed several tackles in the backfield and we didn’t sustain blocks on the offense.”
Havelock is averaging 42.5 points per game behind a stout running attack. The Rams average 244 rushing yards per game behind Derrell Scott, who has 1,424 yards and 16 touchdowns on the season. Quarterback Travis Sabdo has thrown for 1,698 yards with 24 touchdowns, 11 to Matthew Boykin.
Havelock and Topsail have two common opponents. The Pirates lost 19-6 to White Oak and 35-0 to Jacksonville, while Havelock beat White Oak 54-0 and beat Jacksonville 42-0.
The winner of Friday’s game advances to play either No. 8 seed Southern Guilford (6-5) or No. 9 Anson (5-6). But Bryant said the Rams can’t look ahead to the second round.
“They know we’ve got to play one game at a time,” he said of his players. “If you play a bad game and get beat, you don’t get a chance to make that up the next week. You lose, you’re out. It’s win and advance or lose and go home. They know that and the coaches know that.”
And, Bryant knows that as the two-time defending champions and top playoff seed, the Rams will get every opponent’s best effort.
“That’s what we wanted. We’re the No. 1 seed,” he said. “We’re everybody’s state championship game. That’s the position we put ourselves in, so we’re going to relish that role.”
Bryant said it was good knowing that as long as the Rams win, they’ll play at Havelock through the eastern regional championship game.
“What we tell our seniors is that we want their Senior Night to be the eastern finals every year,” he said. “That means we’ve made it to the eastern finals and we’ve gotten the chance to play the eastern finals at home.”
Tickets for the game are $7, and no regular-season passes are accepted for admission per N.C. High School Athletic Association rules.