A few comments on Sunday’s Hitter

Sunday’s column dealt with Southern Lee’s impressive play on the football field since the school’s inception, going back to the JV season three years ago.

Before this season, though, there was some discussion that the Cavaliers could possibly compete for a conference title in 2007. In the end, all it took was one loss to derail those hopes — South Johnston won the championship by finishing the league slate unbeaten — but it’s not like Southern Lee wasn’t still considered one of the most dangerous teams in the league throughout the course of the season.

Considering what most start-up programs are like — Panther Creek and Carrboro are two of the most recent examples — nobody should be disappointed with what the Cavaliers have accomplished in such a short time. To make the playoffs in each of the first two varsity seasons is remarkable, and the feat should be celebrated, not debated.

As for Lee County, it’s tough that the Jackets weren’t able to find their way into the postseason this year.

But it wasn’t for a lack of effort.

Lee County nearly became playoff eligible by winning its last two games, one of which was on the road against an Apex team that no player currently in the program has beaten. Still, Lee County and its coaching staff, led by head coach Jody Stouffer, should be commended for another season in which the Jackets played hard from whistle to whistle.

The Jackets were dealt serious injuries throughout the season, none more significant than the one suffered by Shrine Bowler Jay Hollingsworth. Surely it would have been a different season had Hollingsworth not missed so much time, but Lee County never once stopped to make excuses.

In his third year, Stouffer again made opposing coaches shake their heads, wondering how he got his team so well-prepared. One of Stouffer’s emerging trademarks is installing a gameplan mid-week and making the Jackets competitive in a game in which the opponent was heavily favored. The Jackets have won their share of those games over the past three seasons, and nearly pulled it off again this year against Athens Drive and Apex.

That’s a good sign in the years to come.

Here is Sunday’s column:

It’s hard to remember sometimes.

Almost from the day they stepped between the white lines, the Southern Lee Cavaliers have been competitive. There was that first season three years ago when the Cavaliers finished with a winning record playing a junior varsity schedule. That was followed by last season’s inaugural varsity season ending in the first round of the state playoffs and with a share of the state record for most victories in an opening season.

And then there was this season, which Southern Lee completed with a winning record by overcoming a tough three-game losing streak midway through it. In a year of ups and downs, the Cavaliers opened by winning three of their first four games and closed by winning three of their last four games. Southern Lee beat county rival Lee County in just its second try and qualified again for the state playoffs for the second time in their two-year history.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

And yet some have no doubt wanted more out of the Cavaliers this season. There was talk at the beginning of the season that Southern Lee could potentially contend for a league title.

That didn’t happen, and the Cavaliers finished fifth. But three of Southern Lee’s losses this season have come by a combined five points, and four by a combined 13 points. The players believed they could contend with the best teams in this conference, and for the most part, they were right. Only once have the Cavaliers lost by more than eight points this season, and it came in a typical trap game following the big win over the Yellow Jackets, which had to be moved to Saturday after storms postponed Friday’s normal start.

Funny, one of those close losses — the 21-13 defeat to Union Pines — may have actually helped the Cavaliers. Now Southern Lee gets another shot at a team that just barely got away. The 15th-seeded Cavaliers will travel to play league champion and second-seeded South Johnston in the first round of the state tournament next week.

While knocking off a conference champion on its home field is no gimmie, the Cavaliers match up well against the Trojans, and it was Southern Lee’s performance in the tight 29-25 loss to South Johnston on Oct. 5 that got the Cavaliers’ engines going again.

Union Pines, meanwhile, picked up the 14th seed by finishing in a tie for fourth in the Cape Fear Valley Conference. The Vikings’ reward? A date with second-ranked Rocky Mount on the road.

There’s no telling what might happen from here on out. Strange things sometimes occur at this time of year, and other times the cream rises to the top with regularity. It can be a crap shoot, or it can be an exercise in chalk. Time, and the games, will tell.

But one thing is for certain. Panther Creek, following its first season, is at home with a 1-10 record after losing its games by an average score of 34-9. And Carrboro, after its first season, is probably happy to be indoors now after an 0-10 season and an average score of 64-12 in its games.

Southern Lee, meanwhile, will be practicing again this week. A team that could have rolled over and played dead instead will be playing football again on a brisk Friday night in the second week of November.

In the playoffs.

For the second time.

In its second year.

Go ahead. Think about that.

And remember it.

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Filed under Lee County High School, Southern Lee High School, Sports columns

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