Havelock, West Craven undefeated heading into conference clash

After two straight Thursday games in the rain, the Havelock Rams may face clearer skies against West Craven on Friday night.

“We’ll see,” Havelock coach Jim Bob Bryant joked.

The weather may be the least of his concerns as Bryant’s undefeated Rams head into a 7 p.m. matchup at undefeated West Craven, a contest that could ultimately decide the Coastal 3A Conference champion and the league’s top seed in the playoffs.

“They’re a really good football team,” Bryant said of the Eagles. “We’re going to have to play our best game to have a chance to beat them.”

The Eagles (6-0, 2-0) are flying high, averaging 43.7 points per game. West Craven played two games last week, beating Richlands 56-0 on Sept. 28 and then topping Swansboro 42-20 on Oct. 1.

Quarterback Darius Abrams leads the West Craven offense, completing 28 of 40 passes for 402 yards and six touchdowns. But he is also West Craven’s leading rusher with 770 yards and eight touchdowns.

“He’s a really good player,” Bryant said. “He’s a dynamic player. He’s a quarterback who can run and pass. We’re going to have to limit his big plays on offense.”

Defensively, the Eagles give up just 13 points per game. Defensive end Shaundre Mims has five sacks to lead a unit that has forced 14 turnovers in six games. Linebacker Isaiah Yates leads the team with 37 tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

“They’re really good defensively,” Bryant said. “They’ve got as good a front four as we’ve seen this year.”

But Havelock is undefeated for a reason. The Rams (7-0, 2-0) are averaging 43.4 points per game behind running back Tony Sharpe. The junior has rushed for 1,129 yards and 18 touchdowns in just six games. He sat out last week’s 38-20 Havelock victory over White Oak with a bruised shoulder.

“Tony’s fine,” Bryant said. “He was cleared to play last week and he could have played, but we wanted to give him another week to rest his bruised shoulder. He’ll be full-go on Friday night.”

The Rams got two defensive starters back in the lineup last week as defensive back Trey Owens and linebacker Donte Stackhouse both returned to the field for the first time in two weeks after nursing injuries. Owens had an interception against White Oak.

“We got guys with some bumps and bruises, but you’re going to have that,” Bryant said.

The Rams give up 13.3 points per game, but take away Greenville Rose’s 48-point night on Sept. 11, and Havelock is allowing just 7.5 points per game.

The two county rivals played twice during last season. Havelock won 57-7 on the regular-season’s final week to clinch the Coastal 3A Conference and then beat the Eagles 49-7 two weeks later in the second round of the playoffs.

The rivalry turned heated after the playoff contest, with Bryant and West Craven coach Matt Riggsbee complaining about poor sportsmanship and dirty play.

Bryant said there would be no carryover from last year’s contests to Friday’s game, saying it’s all part of the county rivalry.

“It’s football,” Bryant said. “You see it every Saturday with college rivals, and there’s no difference in high school rivals. It’s a big game no matter when we play and no matter what our records are.”

And this year, like many other years in the past during this rivalry, the game will go a long way toward determining the Coastal 3A Conference champion.

“Both us and West Craven have put ourselves in a position to have a chance to play for a conference championship,” Bryant said. “But as we say, the biggest game is the next game, and this is definitely the biggest game of the year because it’s the next game and because it’s West Craven for the conference championship. We’re playing an undefeated team that’s ranked in the state. They’re a really good football team, and we’ve got a pretty good football team.”