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The Robesonian

Bulldogs look for continued growth in nonconference finale

By Chris Stiles The Robesonian,

St. Pauls’ Theophilus Setzer (13) throws a pass during an Aug. 25 game against Lee County in St. Pauls. The Bulldogs host Charlotte Latin on Friday. Mark Moses | Special to The Robesonian

ST. PAULS — The St. Pauls football team has seen plenty of growing pains through the early portions of the 2023 season.

But coming off their bye week, and with conference play on the horizon, the Bulldogs are hoping the lessons learned will lead to a better on-field product.

St. Pauls will have the chance to show the community that product when the Bulldogs host Charlotte Latin for homecoming on Friday. Kickoff has been moved up to 5 p.m. due to the threat of inclement weather. Friday’s game is the first meeting between the programs.

The Bulldogs (1-3) lost their first three games of the season before earning a 14-12 win over West Columbus in their last outing two weeks ago.

“I’ve seen a lot of growth,” St. Pauls coach Mike Setzer said. “Coaching-wise, I’ve seen growth; I’ve seen coaches get stronger on the board. I’ve seen them going back to moving the chess pieces differently, and when you play chess different I think that makes us better.

“And I’ve seen kids step up. I’ve seen kids understand that their role is going to be different, and I’ve seen kids that understand that there’s more of a role that they’ve got to take. I’ve seen captains take a bigger part; I’ve seen role players take a bigger part. I think that we’re in the right step moving forward.”

Staying positive through the early three-game losing streak — which marked five straight losses for the program including two to end the season last year — was a challenge, Setzer said.

“The challenge is our kids aren’t used to that,” Setzer said. “But with youth, that also shows that nothing’s given. We’re riding a high, prestigious name — but we have to earn our name every time out. That’s definitely stepped on everybody’s toes — that’s stepped on the players’ toes and that’s stepped on the coaches’ toes, so we’ve all taken a step forward in getting better.”

Among the Bulldogs having strong seasons defensively are defensive backs Chris Bryant and Tyler Parks and newly-named Shrine Bowl linebacker Jamarcus Smith, Setzer said; quarterback Theophilus Setzer, running backs Jamir McMillan and Yoshua McBryde and wideouts Malchi Locklear and Tykeem Oxendine have also been bright spots.

The Bulldogs have battled injuries through the early-season stretch, but expect linemen Tacomah Hair and Eli Caballero and fullback/linebacker Angel Clark back soon.

“I’m not glad we took some injuries, but if it has to be early in the season and they come back, I’m pleased with that,” Mike Setzer said. “I see a lot of guys getting healthy, and a lot of our experienced guys are coming back, so we’re excited about this part of the season.”

While St. Pauls is focused on Charlotte Latin, the Bulldogs will complete their nonconference schedule with Friday’s game and open Southeastern Athletic Conference play next week when they host Red Springs. Clinton is the heavy favorite in the conference, but the league is otherwise wide open.

“I don’t think anybody in our conference is unbeatable,” Mike Setzer said. “You hear great stories in our conference of Clinton and everybody else, but no team is unbeatable. But we’ve got to take care of St. Pauls first.”

Like St. Pauls, Charlotte Latin comes into the game with a 1-3 record after winning its first game two weeks ago before their bye week. The Hawks lost 16-7 to Mitchell, 24-21 to Mountain Island Charter and 35-0 to Metrolina Christian before a 35-0 win over Carver on Sept. 8.

“I think Charlotte Latin’s going through some of the same things we have,” Mike Setzer said. “I think Charlotte Latin got some things they’re trying to sort through; they’ve looked good on tape and they’ve looked bad on tape, just like us.”

The Hawks get most of their offensive yards on the ground, with senior back Neil Salvage (315 rushing yards, two touchdowns; 60 receiving yards) leading the charge. Freshman quarterback Troy Logan has thrown for 122 yards in 25 passing attempts with one touchdown; Salvage and freshman Steele Fletcher (60 receiving yards, one touchdown) have been the primary passing targets.

“I think that, being that they’re a well-coached team, you can count on them being, with their alignment and assignment, being correct and coached up,” Mike Setzer said. “I think that they’ve got some guys that can explode when they need to, can be some big-play guys.

Linebacker Myles Gathers (36 tackles, three tackles for loss) and defensive end Banks Cutter (26 tackles, eight tackles for loss), both sophomores, lead the Charlotte Latin defense.

“We’re going to have to beat them; it’s not going to be one of those things where they’re mis-lined up or they’re confused, we’ll have to get in our points of attack and stay on our point of attack and beat them man on,” Mike Setzer said.

Cape Fear at Purnell Swett

Coming off Friday’s thrilling 42-39 win over Gray’s Creek, the Purnell Swett football team will look to stay unbeaten when another tough opponent visits Pembroke on Friday. The Rams host Cape Fear at 7 p.m. Thursday, with the game moved up a day due to the forecast for inclement weather.

Cape Fear (3-1, 1-0 United-8 C0nference) rebounded from a 28-21 loss to Laney on Sept. 8 by winning 42-0 over Lumberton in one half of football last week.

Senior wideout Jeremiah Melvin (440 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns) is one of the area’s best receivers, and has been catching passes from two quarterbacks as senior Hayelom McKenzie (445 passing yards, eight touchdowns) and sophomore Geronimo Sanchez (244 passing yards, four touchdowns) have split time at the position. Senior Favour Murtala (372 rushing yards, two touchdowns) leads the Colts on the ground.

Six players have 24 tackles or more on an experienced Colts defense allowing 14.8 points per game.

Purnell Swett is 4-0 for the first time since the Rams won their first seven games in 2009. The win over Gray’s Creek came in the Rams’ United-8 opener, and the team has a five-game winning streak overall for the first time since 2010.

Purnell Swett leads the all-time series 11-8 and has won seven of the nine meetings as conference opponents, from 2001-08 and last season; the two conference wins by Cape Fear, however, are both shutouts, including last year’s 48-0 outcome.

Jack Britt at Lumberton

The Lumberton football team will look to get its first win of the season when it faces a Jack Britt team who did the same just last week, with kickoff at Alton G. Brooks Stadium moved up to 7 p.m. Thursday due to the weather forecast.

Jack Britt (1-3, 1-0 United-8) opened league play with a 49-8 win over Douglas Byrd last week, ending a three-game losing streak through nonconference play to start the season. The Buccaneers didn’t score until their third game, a 40-35 loss at Scotland, with shutout losses at home to Hoke County and East Forsyth.

The Buccaneers have had relatively balanced offensive production for the season, with senior quarterback Jackson Powell (384 passing yards, three touchdowns) and sophomore receiver Javonte Brooks (184 receiving yards, one touchdown) leading the air attack and senior Cameron Williams (224 rushing yards, one touchdowns) anchoring the run game.

Linebackers Bryce Bennett (32 tackles) and Zach Pickel (31 tackles), both seniors, are key defensive players for the Buccaneers.

Lumberton (0-4, 0-1 United-8) is coming off a 42-0 loss at Cape Fear in which the Pirates opted not to play the second half due to several injuries.

Jack Britt leads the all-time series 10-1, and has won all five meetings as conference opponents, including a 44-0 win last year; the teams have also met in the state playoffs four times. The Pirates’ only win in the series came in 2011.

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