Bertie hosts Gates County
WINDSOR – The scene has shifted to Roy L. Bond Jr. Stadium.
For the second consecutive year, two of the Roanoke-Chowan region’s local football squads will open the season against each other. Last year, Bertie High School went to Eason’s Crossroads and escaped with a 26-24 non-conference victory over Gates County High.
This year Matt Biggy’s Barons will look to return the favor as they make the short junket to Windsor where they will square off with Greg Watford’s Falcons.
Both teams are coming off subpar seasons. Bertie came home 4-6-1 last year while Gates finished the season 5-7.
While both still have some youth on their squad, the Falcons and Barons are both returning a number of starters and this year’s contest looks to be just as exciting as the one a year ago.
Each coach was pleased with his team’s work thus far in the pre-season and excited about getting started Friday night.
“We’re working,” Biggy said. “We’ve been putting in the time and getting stuff done. We did a lot of work this summer.”
“The kids have been working hard,” he said. “We’ve been particularly pleased with the defense. They have been playing lights out.”
Biggy also talked about the relative youth of his squad.
“We’re still a young team,” the coach said. “At the same time, we have some experience because a lot of the guys played last year. No matter what though, they’re still sophomores and juniors. The learning curve isn’t as big, but we’re still young at some key positions.”
The Barons have returning signal-caller Andrew Wiggins ready to lead the team on the field. A sophomore, Biggy said Wiggins has worked hard in the offseason and is playing well in scrimmages and practice.
Also back will be tailback Brandall Riddick, last year’s second-leading rusher. He will be joined in the backfield by Isaiah Eure at fullback. The tandem has big shoes to fill as they look to replace near 2,000-yard performer DaShawn Stokely, who graduated.
Biggy said he was concerned about his team’s depth, conditioning and youth. He said the keys to victory for Gates will include playing smart.
“We have to play smart, sound football,” he said. “We can’t make dumb mistakes and have mental lapses. As long as we do that and play hard, we will be competitive.”
Watford said the defensive squad is the best part of the Falcon team thus far and that the offense will try to make strides as the season opens.
“Our starting 11 on defense has looked good,” he said. “I’m a little concerned about depth, especially with us losing Raekwon Williams to a shoulder injury.”
The Falcons also have a sophomore starting at quarterback with last year’s part-time starter David Watford heading the team.
“So far he’s been pretty good,” the elder Watford said. “He is much more comfortable in the shotgun formation right now than under center, but he has shown a good command of the offense.”
What will be missing Friday and in the coming weeks is Watford’s classmate, Al-Ameen Sharif, who is the starting tailback, but will miss up to five weeks after having knee surgery on Monday.
Jonathan Wilson has been good in the backfield, according to Watford and should provide some stability there.
“We will know more where we are after Friday,” he said. “Our offensive line is still making some mistakes as they move from jayvee to varsity and Gates County will be a good barometer. Coach Biggy always does a great job teaching his kids fundamentals.”
Charles Harden and DeAndre Stephenson are leading the Falcons on the offensive line thus far.
The Falcons are also looking for big things from junior Malcolm Cherry, last year’s Roanoke-Chowan Player of the Year.
Overall, the Falcon mentor said his team had to control the line of scrimmage and play well on special teams.
“If we control the line of scrimmage on offense and don’t turn the ball over, our speed could be a determining factor,” he said. “We also have to play well on special teams, even though we’re behind in that area.”
The Falcons will host Gates Friday night at 7:30 p.m.