South Central's Jemere Artis and the Falcons football team will host South View in the second round of the playoffs Friday. (252Buzz file photo from Rose-South Central game on Sept. 21, 2018 by Bill Hudson)
By Mike Grizzard
For the second year in a row, Andy Tew and his family are adjusting their Thanksgiving plans. That’s good news for Tew, the head football coach at South Central High School, who has his team primed for what he hopes is a deep run in the playoffs.
Traditionally, that translates into practice on Thanksgiving morning. Tew participated in two of those as a player at Farmville Central, then would visit as a spectator after graduation since his family lived just across the road. Now that he is conducting and working around holiday practices as a head coach, he knows exactly what that means.
“This time of year, if you’re practicing it’s a definite reward,” Tew said. “That means that you’ve had a good season and you’ve had a good group of guys. I don’t know when that tradition started, but practicing on Thanksgiving for a high school team seems to be a goal.”
It certainly was a goal for the Falcons after falling to Scotland County in the third round last year and finishing 10-3. With the playoff schedule pushed back a week this year because of Hurricane Florence, South Central (11-0) will be hosting South View (10-2) in a second-round game on Friday.
The Falcons held their final workout at 8 a.m. Thursday before heading their separate ways for Thanksgiving gatherings. Tew wanted his players and coaches to use the day to reflect before refocusing on football.
“This time of year we always talk about what are you thankful for.” he said. “If you’re not close with your family, it’s a great time for reconciliation. If you are close with your family, it’s a great time to get together and see some folks that you haven’t seen in a while. This time of year going from the Thanksgiving season into the Christmas season, I guess people’s hearts turn a little bit and get a little bigger.”
South Central will return with a team as healthy as it has been in several weeks, although starting quarterback Justin Humphries remains in a walking boot and is doubtful. The Falcons wrapped up the Eastern Carolina 3-A/4-A Conference title with a win on Nov. 1.
A bye week following a rescheduled non-conference game at Hertford County gave a few injured Falcons time to recover for the playoffs. It also gave Tew the opportunity to add some of his top junior varsity players to the roster and give them extra repetitions in practice.
“This particular year it kind of helped us because we did have some injuries,” Tew said. “We were a little bit banged up.”
South Central also had a bye last season and opened the playoffs with a 64-36 win over Knightdale. Senior Jeremy Lewis said that performance on defense kept him motivated during the bye week.
“We get to rest up, heal up, but you can’t take it off,” he said. “Last year we had a bye week and we took the bye week slow and the other team scored 36 points on us. They shouldn’t have scored that many points on us.”
South View, whose only losses came to Terry Sanford and Pine Forest, presents Lewis and his defensive mates a stern challenge. Quarterback Donovan Brewington, who led a fourth-quarter comeback in a 26-21 win over Heritage last week, has passed for 2,568 yards with 33 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
Junior running back Matthew Pemberton lead the Tigers on the ground with 1,414 yards and 17 touchdowns, and also has 34 catches for 526 yards and five touchdowns.
Emery Simmons, a 6-3 senior receiver, has 54 catches for 1,127 yards and 18 touchdowns.
South Central counters with a running attack led by senior Jemere Artis with 1,202 yards and 15 touchdowns. Senior Nazir Monroe-Smith has rushed for 489 yards and eight touchdowns,] and also caught 21 passes for 379 yards and five touchdowns.
Lewis, the Falcons’ second-leading tackler with 88, has a team-high 33 receptions for 743 yards and nine touchdowns.
Before his injury, Humphries passed for 1,125 yards with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions. Senior Caleb Woodley, who had one start last year for injured quarterback Dexter McDuffie, stepped in again and has thrown for 489 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.
“You can see him gaining confidence week to week,” Tew said.
Woodley possesses the leadership qualities needed to handle the quarterback position, the coach added.
“The quarterback is involved in every single play so it kind of rises and falls on him,” he said. “Some guys have to want to be quarterbacks and Caleb wants to be a quarterback. Some guys will play that role for you because it’s the best thing for the team
“Justin was the same way. He stepped in and he took that role and ran with it. He got us to where we needed to be. The next guy, because of an injury, he stepped up and has continued to move us forward, and Caleb has done a great job with it.”
Lewis said the senior class knew it had to shoulder a big load this season after the graduation of two of the team’s biggest playmakers.
“You can’t wait for somebody else to step up,” he said. “You’ve got to do it yourself. You’ve got to step up to the plate. Last year we had Dexter McDuffie and Emannuel Lewis. We looked to them to put points on the board. This year we have to take it upon ourselves to do the job they did last year.”
Lewis would like to take it at least one step further in the playoffs.
“I still think people have us as the underdogs,” he said. “A lot of people had us as underdogs against Conley. A lot of people had us as underdogs against Rose, underdogs a lot. We take that in and little do they know it puts the dog in us more and make us come out and compete even more.
“Coach says it almost every day. This might be the last week you put the helmet and shoulder pads on. The seniors want to get a ring. We’ve been talking about this since Aug. 1, the first practice. This is our last year so we’re going to do what it takes.”
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.