With one game left in the regular season, the Lumberton Panthers already have their postseason fate sealed. With a region title in hand after the 7-0 win over Stringer Friday, Lumberton won’t have to leave its home field throughout the playoffs.
But, it will have to take a road trip to Salem (1-9, 0-5 in Region 4-1A) Friday night to close out the schedule. Nothing will change its position in the postseason, but a loss to Salem won’t look good heading into the 1A playoffs.
“We can’t overlook anybody,” Lumberton coach Zach Jones. “It’s going to be Salem’s senior night and Salem has some talent. We’re going to get their best shot. They have nothing to lose Friday night, and I’m sure they’ll play as hard as they can.”
On Monday, though, Jones was basking in Friday night’s win. He thought his team’s defensive performance was one of the best he’s seen since he took over the job. The Panthers held Stringer to 153 yards of total offense, forced three interceptions and only allowed 10 first downs.
Friday night marked the team’s third straight region title, too. In Jones’ first season, his team started 0-4 before making a south state championship appearance, but the Panthers have been a 1A power ever since.
“These kids bought in, they’ve believed, they played their tails off every week and they do everything we’ve asked them to do and more,” Jones said. “We have a great group of senior leaders who were in that 0-4 start. They know what it was like and they’ve worked their tails off.”
The defense shouldn’t have an issue with Salem, however. The Wildcats are allowing a ton of points to their opponents, and Sacred Heart’s 36 points were the least amount of points scored since Loyd Star’s 35 in August. They lost both of those games, too.
Teams are scoring 39 points per game on Salem, and its best performance came Week 1 against Enterprise when the Yellowjackets only put 14 points on the scoreboard.
Lumberton’s offense is known for running the ball, averaging 289 yards per game, but it’s been throwing the ball better in the last few games. Senior Daylan Young has 276 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 10 receptions the last two weeks, and he’s now at 653 yards this season with five scores.
“They like to bring pressure, so we’re going to have to be solid up front and block,” Jones said. “Our skill guys can make plays, and we’re not only running the football but we’re throwing it well. Daylan is on fire right now catching the ball. We got to take care of us, be sure we block, be sure we know our assignments and go over and take care of business.”
Offensively, Salem’s 30 points last week was the most it’s scored since the Week 1 win. Prior to the 36-30 loss to Sacred Heart Friday, it was shutout by Stringer and East Marion, held to 13 points against Resurrection and only scored eight points to Mount Olive.
The Wildcats are very multiple on defense, Jones said, so the Panthers will have to be prepared for everything they throw at them.
“We have to play with the same intensity that we’ve been playing with,” Jones said. “Our defensive line played really well Friday night, but we need to continue that this week. We have to know where we’re supposed to be and do our job.”