Tarboro, Kinston tie as favorites to win EPC
August 9, 2012North Carolina
By Tom Ham, Wilson Times
KINSTON — SouthWest Edgecombe leads a group of five 2-A Eastern Plains Conference varsity football teams counting upon the “curse” forecast to continue in 2012.
In each of the three previous seasons, the team picked to win the highly touted conference in the preseason poll of the head coaches has failed to do so.
SouthWest, Tarboro and Kinston seized the championships — but not in the year each was favored.
The coaches huddled again Wednesday at the conference meeting at Kinston High, and voted Tarboro, the reigning N.C. High School Athletic Association 2-A champion, and Kinston, the 2011 2-AA runner-up, as co-favorites.
A quick unofficial count of the ballots yielded Tarboro, Kinston and SouthWest as tri-favorites. But a recount and a re-check revealed that Tarboro and Kinston deadlocked for the top spot with 32 points each. Each was ranked first on three ballots, second on a pair and third on one. In the balloting process, coaches did not rank their respective team.
SouthWest, which was accorded the other first-place vote, actually wound up with 29 points.
However, when the coaches were erroneously informed of the poll results, surprised SouthWest head coach Raymond Cobb, who will retire after this season, responded: “I don’t see how we’re a part of it. But we’ll go out there and do the best we can. But if the curse continues, it means one of the other four (North Pitt, Beddingfield, Farmville Central and Greene Central) will be the conference champion.”
Mention of the curse prompted a groan from head coach Jeff Craddock, whose Tarboro teams have played for state titles each of the previous four seasons.
“It’s a toss-up between Tarboro and Kinston,” Cobb contended. “But who knows? All are on the rise. There may be a new dog on the block.”
Craddock’s mention of returning just three players drew little sympathy from his peers.
“I wouldn’t put us any higher than third,” he insisted. “The conference, it’s tough; nobody is going anywhere. If you win the conference, you’ve got a great chance of winning a state championship. You can’t blink an eye.”
Kinston head coach Nick Anderson understands the preseason attention is designed to create interest and, perhaps, serve as a source of motivation.
His Vikings, 13-2 and conference kings last season, have been ranked in numerous preseason polls. Anderson finds the attention amusing, noting none of the pollsters have attended a practice or scrimmage and, most likely, have not seen his team play.
“They don’t know what we’ve got,” he reasoned. “We haven’t played a snap yet.”
North Pitt was the choice to finish fourth with 21 points, while Beddingfield was tabbed fifth with 16 points. Then came Farmville Central (nine points) and Greene Central (eight). Beddingfield was picked to finish fourth on four ballots, receiving modest respect from the rest of the seven-team league.
“It’s because of last year,” explained head coach Tyrone Johnson, whose Bruins managed just three wins and missed the playoffs. “But I promise you … we are way better than last year. Coach Johnson doesn’t feel that way (agree with the other league head coaches).”
However, Johnson admits fortunes ride on the shoulders of sophomore quarterback Javius Nixon. Beddingfield’s head coach assures his young quarterback is aware of the high expectations of him.
“Right now, he seems to be handling it well,” Johnson reported. “He’s accepting it. He was (age) 14 last year, and he’s 15 this year. He’s where we’re going to be.”
Fifth-year Greene Central head coach Kenneth Grantham noted Tarboro, Kinston and SouthWest finish at the top of the conference year after year for a reason.
Grantham pointed out Craddock described his Tarboro team as young and assured: “We got him beat; we’re younger. And the league is a beast. We’re going to compete the very best we can with what we’ve got. It is what is.”
What it is is the final year of the Eastern Plains as currently structured. The schools divide into three different conferences in 2013-14. Which direction will the curse head?