Rams set to open playoffs on Friday

When Havelock coach Jim Bob Bryant looks at first-round playoff opponent Eastern Guilford, he doesn’t see a team that is seeded 15th in the 3A East bracket. He doesn’t see a 5-6 football team.

He sees a squad that played competitive football in the always difficult Mid-State 3A Conference.

“I can tell you this: There’s not a better 15 seed in the state in any classification,” Bryant said of the Wildcats. “For a 15 seed, they are a really good football team. Three of their losses came against really good opponents in Northern Guilford, Western Alamance and Eastern Alamance. That’s a really good conference.”

The second-seeded Rams (11-0) are scheduled to host Eastern Guilford at 7:30 p.m. Friday as they begin a quest to appear in a fifth-straight state championship game, something no 3A team has done in state history. Havelock won three consecutive titles in 2011 to 2013 before losing in last year’s championship game.

But Bryant isn’t looking that far ahead, or even toward a possible second-round matchup against the winner of Western Alamance (9-2) and Eden Morehead (8-3).

“We can’t think about the second round right now,” he said. “We’ve got to be thinking about Eastern Guilford. They’re a very good football team. They’re a very athletic team. All of them can run, they’re really fast and they play hard. They play with great passion.”

He said that starts with head coach Doug Robertson, who Bryant called a friend. Robertson guided the Wildcats to a 28-10 victory over Rockingham County last week, a victory that secured a playoff spot. Quarterback Dominique Graves scored a pair of rushing touchdowns to help lead the way.

Eastern Guilford averages 18.5 points per game while giving up 22.5 points per game. The Wildcats had lost five straight contests, scoring double digits just once, before last week’s victory.

Meanwhile, Havelock’s defense has allowed just 130 points all season, an average of 11.8 per game, and 48 of those points came in one game against Greenville Rose.

“Defensively, we need to keep playing like we’ve been playing and limit their big plays,” Bryant said.

The Rams enter the game healthy, but Bryant is concerned about offensive inconsistency. The Rams produced more than 700 yards of offense in a 60-7 victory over Swansboro on Oct. 30, but had four turnovers and struggled until the fourth quarter in last week’s 37-14 victory over Jacksonville, a victory that secured Havelock’s seventh straight Coastal 3A Conference championship.

“The biggest thing we need to do is be more consistent offensively,” Bryant said. “We have flashes of greatness offensively, and then we play like we did Friday night. We just scored 60 points, had 700 yards of total offense the week before. I’m looking for consistency is what I’m looking for.”

Havelock is 72-3 in its last 75 games, with all three losses to state championship teams, New Bern twice and Shelby Crest last year.

“I’m excited to get the playoffs started,” Bryant said. “Hopefully we can keep the kids focused and start playing with some intensity.”