After opening the season with five away games, the South Brunswick football team will play its first home game of the season Friday on Homecoming Night. The Cougars will play North Brunswick on the newly installed turf field at Jack Campbell Stadium.
“It will be good to be able to play at our home stadium and in front of our home crowd,” South Athletic Director Chris Roehner said. “The fact that it’s Spirit Week and Homecoming. It’s against North Brunswick. Any time you play a county rival, your kids are ready to go. I think it will be a fun week and it will be a great week, and I hope that we can take it into Friday night.”
The original plan was to have the field ready by the start of the season. But the work began later than scheduled, and Hurricane Dorian also delayed progress.
“Coach (Rocky) Lewis and I have had a positive attitude,” Roehner said. “It’s been an inconvenience, but we know that when it was all done, it was going to look great and something to be proud of. All these things done by Brunswick County Schools are fantastic and we can’t wait to reap the benefits.”
After having traveled 635 miles to play five games, the Cougars have a home game.
“We’re so used to being on the road right now,” Lewis said, “we don’t know any different. And so I’m sure it will be refreshing. There will be distractions with it being Homecoming and the first time playing on the new field, all the pomp and circumstance. It will be nice.”
The Cougars enter the game 3-2, having lost 10-9 last Friday to Hoggard in a Mideastern 3A/4A Conference opener.
“You never feel good about a loss this close,” Lewis said. “It shows — I just told them — that they can compete with anybody in this conference. So, from that, we feel good.”
The Cougars had much to feel good about throughout the game, starting with Alex Brown’s interception during Hoggard’s opening drive. That led to a 30-yard field goal by Noah Harrell with 7 minutes, 21 seconds left in the first quarter.
On Hoggard’s third possession, T.T. Jenrette forced a fumble and Danny Parker recovered it.
“We felt that we could win the game,” Lewis said. “In years past, that might’ve been just talk. But we really felt that we could compete and win this game. And so it is heartbreaking to be that close and come up a little bit short.
“I feel we are a better team. Hoggard is down compared to years past, they’ve got injuries and everything else, and so we felt that the timing was right. This little band of brothers played hard.”
Hoggard scored on its fourth possession, a 17-yard touchdown pass with 7:34 left in the half, and the half ended with the Vikings ahead 7-3.
On their first possession of the second half, the Vikings connected on pass that might have been a touchdown but Noah Atkinson tackled the receiver at the Cougar 15. On third-and-1 from the 6, Jenrette made a tackle for a 1-yard loss. Hoggard disdained an attempt for first down and kicked a 24-yard field goal with 5:43 left in the third quarter, and that gave the Vikings a 10-3 lead.
“I feel that our program is progressing,” Lewis said, “and to be able to come out and go toe to toe with one of the best teams in southeastern North Carolina speaks volumes. And, so from that aspect, I am super proud. But we’re heartbroken. We felt like we could’ve won and should’ve won that game.”
After the Hoggard touchdown, the Cougars struck quickly. Freshman Bryan Hankins returned the kickoff to the South 37. Runs by Parker, Rodney Thomas-Price and Keyshaun Smith gave South possession at the Hoggard 42. From there, junior quarterback Roman Dilgard threw a pass to a sprinting Smith, who caught the ball near the South sideline and ran into the end zone for the touchdown, cutting the lead to 10-9 with 3:17 left in the quarter. The Vikings blocked the extra point.
“That was at a critical time,” Lewis said about the blocked PAT. “But there were other critical plays that if we make a catch here and make a block here, we could’ve been up two touchdowns.”
South had three possessions in the fourth quarter. Two of them ended in punts. South’s final possession began at its 39 with 2:39 left, but four incomplete passes returned possession to the Vikings, who reached the Cougars’ 4-yard line before running out the clock.
A few minutes after the game had ended — and when the Cougars and Vikings should have been playing in overtime — Lewis stood alone on the field. “I want to cry,” Lewis said. “So close. It’s hard to find words after that one.”
Now the Cougars get ready to play North Brunswick. The Scorpions enter the game having lost 35-6 to New Hanover. Like South, the Scorpions are 3-2 overall, 0-1 in the conference.
“It’s gonna be a tough game,” Lewis said. “They’re much improved. They’re a good team. They had some injuries, but they’ve been resilient. It’s gonna be a knockdown, drag-out country rivalry.”