Lumberton hosts Vardaman to start postseason

By CAMAL PETRO,

The Vardaman Rams are new to the 1A South, and they’re getting the new-kid treatment with their first playoff game. After playing in the 1A North for many years, the Rams will make a 230-mile trip to Lumberton Friday for the first round of the 1A South playoffs.

Vardaman (6-5), which is less than 100 miles from the Mississippi-Tennessee border, lost the last two games of the regular season, but still made the playoffs as the No. 4 seed.

“I don’t understand it myself either, but that’s not for me to understand,” Lumberton coach Zach Jones of Vardaman being in the south. “I’m glad we’re the first seed and we’re at home. We took care of business so we didn’t have to take that long road trip.

“Yeah, I do think it could play to our advantage, but the bottom line is you have to be ready to play either way.”

Jones said he started keeping up with Vardaman more closely when the Rams moved to 1A South this season, too, adding they had a good team returning from 2016.

“They are a really, really good No. 4 seed,” Jones said. “We better not take them likely and be ready to play.”

The Panthers (9-2) ended their season with a dominant 52-0 win on senior night. Jones has been disappointed in his team’s starts to games for the past month, but a 16-point first quarter gave Lumberton an early edge Friday night.

Despite the huge win, Jones believes his team can still play better.

“It was senior night, so we probably didn’t play our best game of the year, but we did what we had to do to win,” Jones said. “I was proud of our seniors for ending the regular season on a good note, so it was a big night celebrating them. We have to be better this week than we were last week. We know what’s at stake and it’s time to get ready.

“I thought we got after it a little better,” Jones said of his team’s start, “but like I said, we have to be better this Friday night.”

The Rams feature a running back with nearly 1,000 yards this season, 995 yards to be exact, and 13 touchdowns on 134 carries. Junior Patrick Pratt also has 331 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 20 grabs.

Senior Trae Owen has completed 59-of-139 passing attempts for 1,156 yards, 10 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, and three other running backs have at least 300 yards on the ground.

“He plays running back, he’s played receiver and he’s their go-to guy, but there are several other guys who can hurt you with the football in their hands,” Jones said. “(Pratt) has a burst and he’s a bigger kid. He’s 6-1 and about 190 pounds, and he’s hard to tackle. He’s so versatile because they can put him in several different spots and he can hurt you.”

Teams are scoring 17 points per game on Vardaman, but the Rams’ defense has pitched three shutouts and allowed three other opponents to score less than 14 points. They’ve either allowed a ton of points to teams, or have turned in good performances, as four teams have scored 29 points or more.

“They’re really big across the defensive front,” Jones said. “Their defensive tackles are really good and I think both of their inside linebackers are really good players. They fly to the football and tackle well. They’re kind of like us, they’ve had some inconsistent moments, but when they play well, they’re really good. I expect their best Friday night, and we know we’re going to have our hands full.”

The first-round matchup is set for a 7 p.m. kickoff in Lumberton.