Focus back on football: Rose visits rival South Central in conference opener

J.H. Rose Rampants warm up before their game against Havelock on Sept. 7. (252Buzz file photo by Bill Hudson)

By Mike Grizzard

After lightning delays and a hurricane, canceled practices and a canceled game, J.H. Rose wants nothing more than a Friday night where the focus is on what happens on the field. A date with rival South Central in the Eastern Carolina 3-A/4-A Conference opener provides just what the Rampants need to set aside a season of distractions.

Rose (3-1) visits the unbeaten Falcons (4-0) on Friday at 7 p.m. looking to avenge a humbling 57-13 home loss last year -- South Central’s first ever in the rivalry. The Rampants also are looking to bounce back from a 49-24 loss to Havelock on Sept. 7.

Rose’s final non-conference game against Franklinton was canceled due to Hurricane Florence, adding to a weather-riddled season that included a road game against Hunt postponed three days and then cut short by lightning.

Senior quarterback Grant Charles Jarman certainly is ready for a return to normalcy, and South Central has his full attention.

“It’s been a rocky road, but we’ve kept our heads up and keep working hard,” Jarman said. “Last year, we’ll keep that in the back of our minds. We’ll have a chip on our shoulder but go in there and be humble, and we’re going to win that game.”

Head coach Dave Wojtecki said he and his staff have stressed keeping composure under adversity, whether it’s on the field or off.

“It’s a lot of distractions that you have no control over,” he said. “We try to make sure we talk about when things like that happen to play through it and adjust to what’s going on. I think they’ve done a great of that so far, but when it happens over and over and over again it starts getting a little old. We’re just ready for a regular week to happen.”

Preparation for South Central didn’t exactly fall in the “regular” category after five days off due to Hurricane Florence. A return to practice Monday meant extra conditioning for idle legs.

“You want to condition them to get them back, but you don’t want to kill them before the game,” Wojtecki said. “There’s a fine line there about being smart about how to get them back in shape. The tempo that we practice with helps us.”

A South Central team that relies on speed will provide a stern test. Despite the graduation of dynamic quarterback Dexter McDuffie and big-play receiver Emannuel Lewis, the Falcons are off to a 4-0 start with wins over Greene Central (18-14), West Craven (38-22), SouthWest Edgecombe (22-15) and North Pitt (40-0).

Junior Justin Humphries and senior Caleb Woodley have both seen time at quarterback. Humphries has completed 23 of 44 for 505 yards and four touchdowns and directed the winning drive in a comeback win over SouthWest Edgecombe.

Senior Jemere Artis has taken over the featured backfield spot, rushing for 584 yards and nine touchdowns. Nazir Monroe-Smith shifted from running back to receiver and has eight catches for 179 yards and 102 yards rushing. East Carolina University commitment Jeremy Lewis has a team-high 16 receptions for 359 yards and two touchdowns.

“They’ve still got a lot of skill,” Wojtecki said. “The running back’s back, but he’s playing a lot of wideout. Of course, the Lewis kid is a good football player. Their quarterback, No. 12 (Humphries), has done a good job of running their offense and making good reads in the run game. I’m very surprised with his talent. No. 8 (Woodley), if he’s in there he throws the ball a little bit better.”

Jarman has put together a solid senior season in leading Rose, completing 59 percent of his passes (59 for 100) for 707 yards with 13 touchdowns and just one interception. Jake Henry Rogers has emerged as the top target with 15 catches for 278 yards and four touchdowns. Senior Ben Harris has 12 catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns.

A backfield-by-committee is let by versatile senior Grant Humphreys with 43 rushes for 281 yards and two touchdowns, plus seven catches and an additional four scores. Junior Shaquan Perry has rushed for 184 yards on 32 carries.

Rose got off to a quick start against South Central last year and led 7-0 after one quarter before the Falcons took control in its first step toward competing for the ECC title. Wojtecki knows a win Friday would put Rose in that same position.

“The first one’s a big one in the conference,” he said. “You want to win the first conference game. Of course you want to win every week. That kind of puts at the top of the conference right from the get-go. It’s a big game. We’ve talked about it. It’s almost like a playoff-atmosphere-type game so hopefully we’ll be ready to go.”

Mike Grizzard of Winterville has more than 30 years of experience as a writer for both print and digital publications in the areas of sports, business, news, faith and personal profiles. Contact Mike at 252-916-4206.