A shortened high school football regular season comes to a close this week with two local teams clashing for a rivalry renewal.
Triton, who improved to 3-0 in the Tri-County 3A Conference after Thursday’s 60-27 win at Union Pines, hosts Harnett Central (2-4, 1-3 TCC), fresh off an impressive league victory of its own on Friday.
Without specifically saying as much, coaches from both programs have kept tabs on what the other is doing and there is sure to be no love lost come game day.
“That was big for us ... to [win] in the fashion that we did with them (Triton) doing what they did Thursday night,” Central coach Matt Migliore said after his team’s 52-7 rout over Southern Lee.
“It’s always junk-talking the whole year by our kids and their kids, and we try to control that as much as we can and get them to focus.”
The Trojans’ main focus will undoubtedly be centered on containing the Hawks’ new-look Wing-T offense that amassed over 500 yards on the ground against Union Pines, but was recently held in check during Monday's loss at league champ Lee County.
Triton (3-3, 3-1 TCC) coach Ben Penny credits a selfless attitude among his backfield and offensive line for totaling nearly 1,600 yards coming into this week.
Hawks seniors Malachi Batts and Kyle Dunkins have combined with freshman running back J.J. Cowan to form the most productive trio in the conference, as shown by their performance against the Vikings in which each back surpassed 100 yards rushing.
“It’s really a good mesh that we have going on ... and they’re playing together,” Penny said of his three “veteran backs.”
“They complement each other. When one does something right, it opens something for the other one and they’re starting to see that and they’re starting to block for each other more than we ever have.”
Cowan, who holds current student-athlete of the week honors for his career-high 223-yard, four-touchdown performance, says the trio’s effectiveness extends past the field of play.
“On the field and off the field we’re brothers — family,” Cowan said.
Whether it's grabbing a bite to eat, going to the park or watching film, there’s little the backfield bunch doesn’t do as a unit.
“Honestly, I think our bond together helps us block harder for each other. ... We’ll fight and fight for each other,” Cowan added.
Migliore coached the Trojans to a 28-14 win over the Hawks last season and is well aware of what it takes to ground the unique attack.
“That offense is something that we’re going to practice for all week – it’s tough to contain. You only see it once or twice a year and that’s their advantage,” Migliore said.
Central has the confidence of holding one of the conference’s most talented rushers, Southern Lee’s Kendal Morris, to minimal gains – with the exception a 22-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter with the game already well in hand.
Meanwhile, on offense, the Trojans used their senior tandem of quarterback De’Andre McAllister and running back Devin Perry to collect 277 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
Both teams acknowledge getting stops in the trenches will ultimately decide which one walks away with bragging rights this year.
“Defense is going to be big. I know that they run the ball ... and our run defense, at times, has shown flashes of brilliance all year,” Migliore said.
“So, I think it’s kind of gonna be a battle of two strengths and we’ll see who comes out on top.”
Friday’s kickoff from Erwin is set for 6:30 p.m.
Donnell Coley can be reached at email@example.com or 910-230-2040.