‘It’s do or die’
After a three year hiatus from postseason play, R-S Central is back in the playoffs and set for a first round matchup at Monroe today at 7:30 p.m.
The Redhawks, a No. 2 seed, comes into the game as winners of their last six games outscoring opponents 238-42.
“I’m sure with them at 9-2 they’re way past us,” R-S Central head coach Mike Cheek said. “They might already be thinking about the second round.”
The No. 15 seed Hilltoppers (5-5) need ay advantage they can get against a team that’s on such a tear in recent months. However, according to Cheek, the Redhawks (9-2) aren’t anything they haven’t seen before.
“They are and aren’t a lot like the Shelby teams, Crest or Burns. They just don’t have the same numbers,” Cheek said. “They have some fast kids but the three teams in our conference have more.
“That’s one of the good things about playing in our conference. We see some of the best teams throughout the season so when we get to the playoffs we’re never shocked by a team’s talent.”
That talent is led by junior running back Chase Bryum who has 1,058 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013. Fellow running backs Julius Stradford and Tre’Shun Wynn also combine for over 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The running game sets up the pass for Redhawks freshman quarterback Zephaniah Wall who’s thrown seven touchdowns on just 52 pass attempts.
So not only will the Hilltoppers try to stop a prolific running offense, they’ll have to put points on the board if the game turns into a shootout.
“The game plan is to do both,” Cheek said when asked if he expects to have to stop the Redhawks or just hope to outscore them. “That’s why I like to go on defense first it gives me a chance to get the feel of the game.”
The Hilltoppers, who also pound the football on the ground, hope to utilize leading rusher Matt Atchley in every position of the Hilltopper’s Wing-T backfield.
“The thing with Matt is that he’s one of the smartest kids on the team. He knows everyone else’s position in the backfield,” Cheek said. “He’s been a big part of our offense all year long and I’m sure Monroe will make him its top priority.”
If both teams run the ball as much as expected, points may come at a premium throughout the night.
“We’ll need both the offensive and defensive lines to step up. In a game like this where both teams will run the ball a lot the team whose lines step up the most and controls the ball has a great chance to win the game,” Cheek said. “It’ll come down to who has more possession because when either of us has the ball we’ll try to run the clock.”
And the road test doesn’t effect the Hilltoppers or the coaching staff.
“Every time we’ve been in the playoffs we’ve gone on the road. And I think our kids play better away from home,” Cheek said. “Plus the kids are excited about playing on artificial turf. The only thing about it is if it’s real cold it can get slippery.”
But putting football aside, a return trip to the playoffs is sweet in Rutherfordton.
“We’re all excited,” Cheek said. “When you go to the playoffs your fist six years and then spend three years out it feels real good.
“I told a lot of the senior players that I’ve been around them every day for four years and now it’s coming to an end. I’m not ready to stop practicing yet and I hope they’re not either ... It’s do or die.”