When New Bern walked off a wet field last season with a 34-33 victory over Havelock, it may have well set the stage for what was to come for both teams — a pair of state championships.
Now, the two teams are scheduled to renew their Craven County rivalry at 7:30 p.m. Friday in New Bern.
“It’s a rivalry game with two defending state champions going at it,” Havelock coach Jim Bob Bryant said. “It’s going to be a fun game to coach in and a fun game to play in. It’s going to be a fun game for the fans.”
New Bern won last year’s 4A state championship with a 16-0 record, while Havelock won the 3A state championship at 15-1, the lone loss being that one-point setback to the Bears.
“There’s three schools in our county and two of them were state champions last year,” Bryant said. “That speaks to the level of football played in Craven County.”
And Bryant expects a high level of football Friday from the Bears, who are coming off a 27-24 overtime loss to Durham Hillside in last week’s opener.
“They’re good as usual,” Bryant said of New Bern. “They’re well-coached, have a lot of athletes and have good size. They’re not one of the best teams in the state because they don’t have players. They’ve got some real good players and some real good coaches.”
New Bern quarterback Michael Hughes ran for 152 yards against Hillside last week, rushing for a touchdown and throwing for two more. He threw for 146 as the Bears totaled 329 yards.
New Bern will face a Havelock defense that surrendered 270 yards in last week’s 28-6 victory over Washington. The Rams also came up with an interception and two sacks.
Despite the victory, Havelock did struggle offensively. The Rams mustered just 57 yards rushing in the contest.
“We have to move the chains better than we did the other night,” Bryant said. “I think we punted more the other night than in the first six games of last year. We’ve got to move the chains and get first downs, and keep their offense off the field.”
He said the contest could come down to the kicking game, which it did last year when a poor snap on a wet field led to a blocked extra point that could have tied the game for the Rams in the closing seconds.
“Special teams are going to play a big part,” said Bryant, whose team had a punt blocked last week against Washington. “I think both of us offensively and defensively are going to be pretty good, but special teams will help create or eliminate field position, so I think big plays and the kicking game are going to be two big things in this game.
“Both offenses are explosive, so which team limits the other team’s offensive production more, and big plays and special teams I think will be the difference.”
New Bern holds a 22-20-1 lead in the series. Bryant is 3-2 in games against the Bears, who have won two of the last three meetings. Havelock won 51-28 in 2011, the last time the game was played in New Bern.
Advance tickets for the game are being sold during normal school hours at Havelock High.