Monday, September 1, 2008

Gators set for home opener with Lakewood

Demetrius McKelvie

Sports Editor

For the first time in nine years, the East Columbus High School football team will open a season on its homefield this Friday night.

Coach Travis Conner’s Gators will play host to the Lakewood Leopards Friday at 7:30 with hopes of breaking a three-year losing streak against the Sampson County team.

East Columbus last played the season opener on its homefield on Aug. 20, 1999 as it defeated Pender 20-7 with junior back Kaliym Hazel rushing for 184 yards and two touchdowns on 14. In 2000, the Gators opened the season with a loss to Bladenboro, and from 2001 through 2006, the Gators held a season-opening endowment game series with Southwest Onslow ... all on the SWO field. Last season, ECHS opened the season with 20-12 loss at Lakewood.

The 1999 home game with Pender also marks the last time East Columbus won its season opener, so Conner and his staff are hoping that will be a good sign this week.

“We had our chances against Lakewood last year, but there were just too many mistakes,” Conner said. “Mistakes and injuries were our big drawback last season.”

East Columbus went 5-7 last year only to realize after the season that it had used an ineligible player and had to forfeit the wins.

The Gators have shown some good things in pre-season scrimmages with Fairmont and Fayetteville’s E.E. Smith, but Conner is still cautious about the season, especially about opening against a Lakewood team that advanced to the Western 1A finals last season, losing out to North Duplin.

Lakewood, a member of the “rough-and-tumble” Big Six Conference, also took wins of 21-0 in 2006 and 29-16 in 2005 over the Gators.

“I’ve been impressed by Lakewood each time we have played them in the past,” Conner said. “They are aggressive and well-coached.”

Lakewood, coached by James Lewis, made a good showing against West Bladen in last week’s Sampson County Jamboree, but reports are that turnout for football has been lighter than usual at Lakewood this year and the varsity numbers are down a little.

East Columbus has a strong Division I college prospect in free safety Demetrius McKelvie. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound McKelvie has earned All-Conference and All-County honors. McKelvie was unable to compete in pre-season scrimmages as he had to miss some practice days while off in Long Beach, Calif., competing for the Southeast All-Stars in the Area Code Baseball Classic.

The News Reporter

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