After 14 games, the Havelock Rams are right where they expected to be — playing for the eastern regional championship.
Havelock is scheduled to host Eastern Wayne at 7:30 p.m. Friday, with the winner earning a trip to the state championship game Dec. 14 in Raleigh.
The Rams will be playing in their fifth straight regional championship game, having won the last two on the way to back-to-back state titles.
“We’ve been lucky enough to play in this game now five years in a row,” Havelock coach Jim Bob Bryant said. “We kind of know what to expect. Having the game at home is a big plus as well.”
Bryant said he didn’t think nerves would be an issue with his top-seeded Rams (14-0).
“I think the coaches get a little bit more nervous than the players,” Bryant said. “It’s old hat for our guys. They expect to be here every year.”
Eastern Wayne’s appearance in the regional title game may be considered unexpected. The Warriors were just 4-7 last season but have gone 11-2 this year, with their only losses to 4A schools New Bern (34-12) and Greenville Rose (27-12).
The third-seeded Warriors beat West Carteret 35-14 in the first round of the playoffs and had narrow victories over Southern Nash (21-17) and Eastern Alamance (12-7).
Eastern Alamance had been averaging 42.5 points per game but managed less than 300 yards of total offense and just a lone touchdown against Eastern Wayne.
“Their defense is really, really good,” Bryant said. “They get after it. They’re a lot like us. They’re not real big, but they’re really athletic and all of them run real well.
“They only gave up one touchdown to a very good Eastern Alamance team, and that really got our attention.”
The Warriors average 32.7 points per game with their spread offense. Kamone Best rushed for 200 yards on 20 carries and had a 72-yard touchdown run last week against Eastern Alamance.
“They’re a really good offensive team,” Bryant said. “We’re going to have to play really well on both sides of the ball to beat them.”
As for Havelock, the Rams are averaging 49.7 points offensively and have given up just two offensive touchdowns in three playoff victories.
Two weeks ago, quarterback Travis Sabdo threw for 245 yards and four touchdowns in a 53-14 victory over Anson. In last week’s 48-2 victory over North Forsyth, the Rams rushed for 333 yards and got five combined rushing touchdowns from Taylor Woods and Derrell Scott.
“I think we’re peaking at the right time,” Bryant said. “At this point in the season, you want to start peaking, and I think offensively and defensively we’re peaking at the exact right time late in the playoffs.”
Peaking or not, Bryant said the Rams would have to play at their best to advance to their third consecutive state title game.
“We have to stop the big play on defense and win in the kicking game and special teams,” Bryant said. “Offensively, we need to take care of the ball and not turn it over. We can’t put our defense in bad situations.”
Tickets are $7 in advance from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday at the high school or $8 at the gate.