Havelock defeated Eden Morehead in last year's competition

The Havelock Rams beat a young and inexperienced Eden Morehead team 49-10 in the first round of the playoffs last year.

Now, the Rams get a senior-laden Panthers team coming off an emotional victory in the second round at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Havelock High.

“They’re bigger, stronger and faster than they were last year because they’ve got another year under their belts,” Havelock coach Jim Bob Bryant said. “They’re more experienced running a similar offense and similar defense to last year.”

The 10th-seeded Panthers (9-3) defeated seventh-seeded Western Alamance 28-27 in overtime in last week’s first round, avenging a loss to the Warriors earlier this season. Morehead rallied twice from 14 points down in the contest, forcing overtime with a fourth-quarter touchdown.

The victory was the seventh straight for the Panthers.

Meanwhile, the second-seeded Rams (12-0) won their first-round game 41-28 over Eastern Guilford, a team Eden Morehead defeated 20-14 during the regular season. Havelock ran 83 offensive plays, the most it has all season, and totaled 27 first downs and 489 yards of offense without a turnover against Eastern Guilford.

The Panthers average 30.8 points per game behind quarterback Will Dabbs, who has thrown for 1,890 yards and 21 touchdowns and has rushed for another 907 yards and 12 touchdowns. Mike Jones is Dabbs’ top target with 57 catches for 853 yards and nine scores.

Defensively, Eden Morehead gives up 19.4 points per game. Jones has five of the team’s 15 interceptions.

In last year’s game, Havelock came up with five turnovers, including four interceptions. Bryant said the Rams would need a similar performance on Friday night.

“We’ve got to limit their big plays when we’re on defense,” Bryant said, referring to three long pass completions Havelock surrendered to Eastern Guilford. “We’ve got to take care of the ball on offense and be patient.”

He said no playoff game is ever easy, and he expects a tough contest against a Panther team that is on a roll.

“Every team in the playoffs has the same record coming into the playoffs. Everybody is 0-0,” Bryant said. “Anybody can win on any Friday night. That’s why you have to be on top of your game every Friday night no matter what seed you are.”

The winner will play either third-seeded Rocky Mount or 11th-seeded South Johnston in the third round on Nov. 27.