Havelock coach Jim Bob Bryant knows his Rams will be facing a tough opponent in Concord in Saturday’s state title game. He didn’t expect anything less.
"They’re by far the best team we’ve played since New Bern," Bryant said. "But, I think we’re the best team they’ve played this year as well, which is what you expect in a state championship game."
The Rams (14-1) and Spiders (13-2) are scheduled to kick off at 3 p.m. Saturday at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem.
Havelock is coming off a 42-7 victory over Orange in the eastern regional championship, while Concord defeated Freedom 27-20 to win the west.
Concord features senior quarterback B.J. Beecher, who has been starting since his freshmen season. He’s thrown for 3,780 yards on the year with 47 touchdowns. He jammed his thumb against Freedom and left the game, but Bryant is preparing for Beecher to play Saturday.
"He’s the best passing quarterback we’ve faced this year," Bryant said. "He’s very accurate and has a really strong arm. He’s one of the best in the state."
And Beecher, who is a Shrine Bowl selection, stands 6-foot-7.
"Obviously he doesn’t have any problems seeing over the line," Bryant said.
Up front, the Spiders are led by 6-7, 320-pound lineman Gerald Carr, so Bryant knows getting pressure on Beecher is crucial.
"We have to try to not give him time to sit back there in the pocket and pick and choose where he throws," Bryant said. "We’ve got to get a good pass rush on and still keep good coverage behind them."
To stop an offense that averages 38 points per game, Havelock has a defense that gives up just 10 points per game. Up front, Malcom Ashley has 7 1/2 sacks, while Harry Caldwell has seven and Kendall Vickers 5 1/2. The Rams have 49 sacks on the season.
In the secondary, A.J. Coplon leads Havelock with seven interceptions.
Concord wide receiver Alex Asbury has 1,429 yards and 15 touchdowns on the year, while running back Rocky Reid has nearly 1,500 rushing yards.
"Most people probably look at us as the underdog in the game," Concord coach Glen Padgett said. "(Havelock) is the defending state champion and have been ranked high in 3A all year. They have game-breakers all over the place. We need to take advantage of any mistakes that they make."
Havelock’s offense averages 47.5 points per game. Quarterback Pharoh Cooper has 2,798 yards and 23 touchdowns passing on the year, but has also added 1,174 yards and another 14 touchdowns on the ground.
Running back Derrell Scott has a team-best 1,616 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns on the year.
Concord gives up 20.7 points per game
"They’re big and physical," Bryant said of the Spiders defense. "They’ve got two of the best linebackers we’ve seen and probably the best defensive line we’ve seen this year. They’re athletic, so it’s going to be a challenge for us."
One aspect of the game is that it will be played on artificial turf at the Wake Forest University football stadium. The Rams plan to practice on artificial turf today at East Carolina and on Friday at Duke as the team makes its way to Winston-Salem.
"I think it will be a fast surface," Bryant said. "I think it will benefit both teams because they’re a very athletic team as well. We’ll see."
Havelock’s advantage may be in experience. After all, many of the Rams were part of last year’s state championship game, a 38-6 victory over West Rowan. Concord last won the state title in 2006.
"They’ve been here and they’ve won it all," Padgett said. "Our kids know that it’s going to take an unbelievable effort on Saturday afternoon. We are excited to play them and the challenges that come with that."
Bryant said his players are excited about the opportunity to win another state title and have been playing well throughout the playoffs, averaging 48.5 points while giving up just 3.5 per game.
"We have to keep it up one more week," he said. "We’ve been playing pretty good. Let’s hope we keep it up one more week."
Halifax Media reporter Adam Thompson contributed to this story.