Lumberton leaning on experience for this playoff run

By CAMAL PETRO,

The time everyone in Lumberton has been waiting for is finally here. Since the Panthers lost to Resurrection in the second round of the 1A playoffs in 2017, they’ve been working towards this year’s postseason.  

The Lumberton seniors have played in nine postseason games since their freshmen year, so the experience – good and bad – is a huge factor for this team.

“I thought we kind of got ahead of ourselves last year and lost a little bit of focus,” Lumberton coach Zach Jones said. “It caused us to get beat in the second round. That’s one thing we talked about after Friday’s night game. It’s one week at a time so you can’t lose focus. It’s over with now if you get beat. I think the experience from last year will definitely help keep their focus.”

Lumberton knew its postseason fate two weeks ago after beating Stringer 7-0, so a road game with Salem stood in the way of the Panthers and the postseason. They handled their business, though, defeating the Wildcats 41-14. Sophomore Robert Henry only needed seven carries to reach 202 yards with two touchdowns, and Lumberton had 12 players record a rushing attempt.

After the game ended Friday night, Jones had a stern message for his team.

“I told them to not get caught up in what everybody around you is talking about,” Jones said. “Teams that are in the playoffs now are there for a reason. They’re a pretty good football team and anybody can beat you on any given Friday night. If I hear anybody talking about anything other than Leake County in that Fieldhouse or practice, they’re not going to like me very much.”

Leake County (7-3) has only lost to teams in its region, which is why the Gators finished fourth in Region 3-1A. They averaged 277 rushing yards and 111 passing yards per game, and teams aren’t scoring a ton of points against their defense.

French Camp beat Leake County 26-22 last week, Noxapater won 28-0 two weeks prior to that and Nanih Waiya won a 27-6 decision earlier in the region play. Other than that, West Lowndes scored 38 points in a 40-38 Leake County win, and Leake Central put up 27 in a 30-27 win for the Gators.

Collectively, opponents are averaging 20 points per game, while Lumberton is scoring 34 points.

“Defensively, their defensive line is really good,” Jones said. “They could possibly be the best defensive line we’ve played all year. They’re big, athletic and their motors run. It’s not a cakewalk by any stretch, so we’ll have to be ready to play.”

Led by senior Jaleen Morgan running the ball offensively, the Gators are scoring 28 points a game. Entering last Friday, Morgan had 1,253 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 130 carries, and sophomore quarterback Jaden Mann has 897 passing yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions on 50 percent passing. 

Jones expects to see a lot of different formations Friday night, too.

“I think (Morgan) is a really good player,” Jones said. “They’re very athletic and play a lot of seniors. They have some skill guys who can go and they give some people some problems. They’re multiple, so they do a good job with what they do. They’ll be in the wing-T then hop in the spread.”

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday night in Lumberton, and the winner will advance to play the winner of East Marion-Noxapater.