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BYH, some see the glass as half empty. I say just get a smaller glass and quit complaining....

KEATOR: Five can't miss games for this season

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South Central's Justin Humphries, left, pushes away West Craven's TyQuan Kearney during their game on August 24, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Jake Keator
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The stage is set and the lights will soon be on as area football teams are ready to see if their intense workouts and practices will pay off on the field Friday night for the opening of another high school season. While there are many can’t-miss matchups coming up this season, I picked out what I believe are five of the best, games that you would be wild to miss.

5) Rocky Mount at D.H. Conley (Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.)

The Vikings once again kick off the season with the difficult back-to-back non-conference matchups of Northeastern followed by Rocky Mount.

These first two games will be critical in determining who will become Conley quarterback Nick Hamilton’s No. 1 receiver now that CJ Johnson is off to East Carolina. Sixty percent of last year’s receiving yardage is on the table for grabs, so it will be interesting to see who is ready to make the leap.

There is no doubt DHC head coach Nate Conner will have his team prepared to rise to the occasion, especially since the Vikings lost to Rocky Mount by only four points a year ago, 25-21. This year, Hamilton will not be fighting to settle into his new offense after a year under his belt. The senior has the accuracy and power to place the ball where he pleases, so it will be up to the receivers and tight ends to work into space and make the most of their targets.

Remember, however, that DHC lost to Northeastern and Rocky Mount to go 0-2 to begin the year last season, but still came just plays away from capturing a 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference title in the final game of the season. As they say, no one wins a non-conference title.

4) Greene Central at South Central (Friday at 7 p.m.)

Last season, Greene Central nearly ended South Central’s undefeated season before it really got going, with the Rams losing 20-14 in Snow Hill. They have the chance to pull off the upset in this revenge game to open the year.

The two big names missing this time around are SC’s Jeremy Lewis and GC’s AJ Dupree, both of which are now at Division-I programs East Carolina and North Carolina A&T, respectively.

The Falcons can’t expect the same style of play from the Rams this season, thanks to a new head coach lining up on the GC sideline in former defensive backs coach Jay Wilson, who received a promotion after the departure of Allen Wooten to Havelock. Wilson has said that he hopes his team can push the tempo and force defenses into mistakes, while being able to seamlessly transition from a hard-hitting ground game to a high-flying passing attack with new quarterback Cole Dawson.

The matchup also will act as a way to get an early read on SC quarterback Justin Humphries, who walks in as the day one starter after beginning the year second on the depth chart in 2018. Expect plenty of exciting offense and a couple of great defensive plays in this season opener.

3) Kinston at Ayden-Grifton (Nov. 8 at 7 p.m.)

Ayden-Grifton took a talented, undefeated Kinston team to overtime in the first round of the 2-A state playoffs last season, but a Vikings touchdown on the first play of OT ended what was the 18th consecutive season with a postseason appearance for the Chargers.

That record is growing into one of the most impressive in the state, as it shows how smaller teams can fight through issues such as a lack of depth to create continuous success.

A-G head coach Paul Cornwell said the loss to Kinston has become a point of emphasis and fire for returning players, who will look for revenge in the final game of the regular season. By that point, Cornwell and fans will know how freshman quarterback Josh Wright feels in control of the offense, as Cornwell has said that he plans to allow his QB to throw the ball more this season.

The Chargers registered just 100 pass attempts in 2018, so expect that number to jump this season. Another impressive statistic is that the Chargers offensive line gave up just five sacks last season. Cornwell conceded that two of those sacks were his linemen getting beaten, but said he believes the last three came from confusion on the part of the wide receivers. As a talented line coach, expect Cornwell to once again have his offensive line in top shape to protect its new quarterback.

2) South Central at J.H. Rose (Nov. 1 at 7 p.m.)

Another late-season revenge game features J.H. Rose, which came just a few yards short of completing what the Rams could not in Week One against South Central. Instead, a holding call pushed the Rampants out of field goal range, which eventually led to a punt to seal a victory for the Falcons.

This season, Rose comes in with a new weapon, dual-threat quarterback Wade Jarman who, combined with running backs Shaquan Perry and Micheal Allen and three returning starters to the offensive line, could cause problems for a defensive line that no longer features defensive end Jeremy Lewis, defensive lineman Phillip Chen or 2018 All-Area Defensive Player of the Year Christian Barnes.

The Falcons offense will also feature plenty of talent, as head coach Andy Tew explained that this year’s Falcon offensive line is one of the biggest he’s had over the course of his tenure. Once again this matchup of rivals will play a deciding role in what could become another three-way battle for a conference championship.

1) J.H. Rose at D.H. Conley (Oct. 11 at 7 p.m.)

While this matchup may not be as dramatic as Conley and SC’s last-minute, game-winning regular season finale from a year ago, this mid-season matchup in the battle for Greenville may be what becomes the deciding factor in who takes home the conference title.

Expect two high-powered offenses to clash, possibly leaving defense to be the deciding factor. Hamilton versus Jarman will prove to be an interesting quarterback matchup, as an experienced passer in Hamilton faces off against a dynamic dual threat in Jarman. Both teams will have to make big plays in order to pull out a win.

On defense, both teams will bring in young groups but should be well in a groove as they pass the halfway point of the season. Expect a tight battle, but not high scoring. As good as both offenses will be, the defenses will ultimately become what decides who gets the leg up on their opponent.

Don’t forget, neither team will have faced South Central at that point, so even after this game, they will have to contend with the Falcons to get an even larger advantage or close the gap as the race for a title enters the home stretch. Rose will face SC on Nov. 1, while the Vikings will get their shot just one week later on Nov. 8.

Contact Jake Keator at jkeator@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 and follow @JakeKeatorDR on Twitter.

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