Despite having never met on the football field, there are plenty of similarities between Southern Wayne and Rosewood.
Both the Saints and Eagles have first-year head coaches, and neither program is a stranger to adversity.
Southern Wayne and Rosewood will meet for the first time at 7 on Friday evening, as the Saints visit Branch Pope Field.
The game can be heard locally on FM 98.3 WGBR, or online at Goldsborodailynews.com, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Former Southern Wayne defensive coordinator and first-year head coach Matt Hine, has the Saints off to a 2-0 start this season for the first time since 2011. Southern Wayne went just 6-52 from 2017 to 2022, including winless seasons in 2017 and 2020.
With wins over county rivals Eastern Wayne and Goldsboro already to their credit this season, the Saints are 4-1 against Wayne County opponents dating back to last year. Hine and his staff have worked tirelessly to rebuild the psyche of their players, while also challenging them to be committed to the weight room.
“When we got down 20-0 in the first half against Eastern Wayne, we wanted to make sure that the body language, the posture and the attitude of our players stayed good,” Hine said. “The biggest thing I can take away from the first two games is the mental toughness and the attitude of our team. Our kids are in it for 48 minutes every week, and we’re not going to be the old Southern Wayne, where heads would go down and body language would stink when even one thing would go wrong.”
The Saints have also benefited from the leadership of senior quarterback Tez White, who has accounted for 315 yards of offense and five total touchdowns. Hine has been impressed with White’s willingness to admit when at times his efforts to try and do more than necessary has led to mistakes.
“Tez is a tremendous leader,” Hine said. “He’s a great student in the classroom. He has a high GPA, and kids follow him and want to be around him. With his leadership on the field, in a lot of ways it’s like having another coach on the field. I’d loved that about him. He at times has tried to do too much and forcing a big play, and he would be the first to tell you that.”
Perhaps one of the most telling signs that the early stages of a football rebirth is occurring in Dudley, has been Southern Wayne outscoring their opponents 50-6 in the second half through two games.
“I think it all goes back to the moment I walked in here last year as the defensive coordinator and it’s carried all the way through into this year and it’s that our kids have bought into the weight room,” Hine said. “Our kids have bought into the strength program that we are using with them. That was the biggest factor in the Eastern Wayne game, is that we were physically strong, and we were able to exert our will as the game wore on.”
Meanwhile, Rosewood has all but built a brand in recent years of transforming slow starts to the season into deep playoff runs. A week ago, the Eagles fell 41-34 in an instant classic at bitter rival Princeton, and the loss dropped Rosewood to 0-3 for the first time since 2016.
A loss to Southern Wayne would move the Eagles to 0-4 for the first time since 2009. Rosewood started last season 1-4, and responded by winning nine consecutive games, before falling at Tarboro in the 1-A East finals.
First-year Eagles’ head coach Josh Smith, was encouraged by his team’s spirited effort at Princeton a week ago, especially the chemistry junior quarterback Gio Pineda displayed with his wide receivers. Pineda threw for 325 yards and five touchdowns, and rallied his team from down 14-0 to eventually take the lead, before ultimately falling short, in one of the more memorable games in the series in recent history.
“I think our passing game is possibly going to help free up the box for our run game,” Smith said. “In the last several years, we’ve been super run-heavy, and teams know that. It’s no secret about what we do offensively. I think now that we’re able to open it up a little bit in the air, and connect the deep ball, and to be able to get on the perimeter with Micah Cox and Talan Collins, it will give us that balanced offense that I really want. And now that we have those weapons I think you’re going to start to see some things develop, just because they’ve been in the works for the last three weeks.”
Rosewood continues to progress at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, while working to replace four starters along the offensive line that were lost to graduation. The Eagles have struggled to stop opponents from running the ball, and Princeton finished with 402 rushing yards and six touchdowns last week.
Rosewood will face another formidable test up front this week, as the offensive and defensive lines have been strengths of the Saints early in the season. Senior tailback David Lamm, has yet to truly get going for the Eagles, as Rosewood’s rebuilt offensive line continues to search for cohesion. Lamm has rushed for 260 yards and a touchdown.
“I think our guys are working really hard day in and day out,” Smith said. “They continue to put in the work, they’re understanding the concepts, understanding the different scenarios that are going to be presented to them during the week. Just like any game, the line of scrimmage is where everything starts, whether you’re on the offensive side or the defensive side. Whoever can establish that line of scrimmage is going to have an advantage.”