South Pointe’s place in the 3A state championship game Saturday confirmed a decision the program made almost a year ago: to play a typically difficult non-region schedule.
Some folks may have been panicking or writing the Stallions off after a 2-3 start, but a closer look at the competition would have shown the schedule was a minefield, and that after coming through the other side and facing down 3A competition the rest of the season, South Pointe was in okay shape.
“We’re gonna make sure we always play a tough schedule,” said coach Strait Herron. “When you’re playing 3A football, it’s where you finish in your region. It doesn’t make any difference to worry about points.”
It’s a good thing points don’t matter as much for South Pointe, because the school doesn’t have an easy time of scheduling games. While points don’t count as much in the 3A class, they do in the 4A class, one reason many of the local 4A schools don’t want to play the Stallions, especially with the potential for a loss. Then there is that: many teams don’t want to schedule South Pointe because they’re annually successful.
Hartsville plays South Pointe on Saturday in the 3A title game, and its coach Jeff Calabrese can relate to South Pointe’s scheduling issues. Since Hartsville dropped down to the 3A class in 2010, it too has a tricky time of scheduling opponents, many of whom won’t pick up the phone when Calabrese calls.
“I think that’s a credit to the way South Pointe plays football, and certainly Hartsville,” said Calabrese. “I think that’s a good thing; I don’t want my phone ringing off the hook. I’d be looking for a job.”
Success at the 3A level leads to the kind of non-region schedule that the Stallions put together this year. The school struggled to fill its season-opening slot and ended up with home school outfit New Covenant in Week Zero. That game proved to be a glorified scrimmage, a 40-0 win that did little for the Stallions’ improvement in the long-run.
The schedule changed dramatically after that, though.
South Pointe edged Rock Hill 28-20 in a Week One rivalry barn-burner, before dropping three straight games to York, Vance (N.C.) and Northwestern. It was South Pointe’s first three-game losing streak since 2006, the school’s first year of varsity football and only losing season in program history.
The first of the three losses – to York – was the ugliest. South Pointe started in a flash, an eight-play drive capped by a 15-yard touchdown grab for Josh Wilkes put the visiting Stallions in front 7-0 early. It went sour from there.
York scored 48 straight points, handing South Pointe its biggest loss in school history, with the added humiliation of Bobby Carroll, the original architect of the South Pointe program, coaching the Cougars to the blowout on the opposing sideline.
The 28-7 loss to Vance was marred by lightning delays. The Stallions again led 7-0 before a 45-minute stoppage; the Cougars scored 28 unanswered points after the teams came back out to cruise to victory.
The Northwestern game on Sept. 19 proved to be an early turning point for the Stallions. Trailing 20-0 at the half, the coaching staff made the tough choice to go with quarterback Greg Ruff over incumbent Zaylin Burris, and the South Pointe offense perked up. Ruff led the Stallions back into the game and they had a shot to win late, misfiring on a two-point conversion pass with 22 seconds left in the game. The result was a 27-26 loss, but the tide had turned.
South Pointe hasn’t lost since, winning nine straight games, including four in the 3A playoffs to reach the final. The teams that beat the Stallions during the September slump haven’t done too bad either.
Northwestern had a good season, reaching the second round of the playoffs and winning nine games. Carroll led York into its first 4A state final appearance; the Cougars will play Saturday at noon in the game before South Pointe. And the other Cougars, Aaron Beard’s 11-3 Vance squad, face Charlotte Catholic on Friday night in the North Carolina state 4A semifinals with a berth in that state’s championship game on the line.
The three teams that beat South Pointe are a combined 32-9 and two of them are still playing in December.
“I was concerned after the York game; I was concerned after the Vance game, but after the second half of the Northwestern game I knew we were right where we needed to be,” said Herron.