Lumberton football has been a powerhouse since the hiring of head coach Zach Jones. While most programs would call a 10-3 season and a trip to the playoffs a success, Coach Jones and the rest of the program say there is more room for improvement. With many key players returning, Lumberton is more than capable of building off last year’s finish.
Last year Lumberton put together another dominant team, but it faced costly hiccups along the way. In week one, Lumberton narrowly escaped North Forrest in an unforeseen defensive battle. In week three, Lumberton had another hiccup in a loss against a mediocre Heidelberg team, a game where the team gained a regular-season low of 141 yards on the ground. The following week, running back Robert Henry helped the offense propel itself into an elite offense and 31 points per game. Lumberton’s season ended with a 20-12 loss to Resurrection Catholic in the second round of the playoffs to end the season.
Lumberton returns the key to their offense in senior quarterback Jared Tribett. Tribett has been pivotal in making the offense run efficiently for three years now, which has made him one of the most reliable quarterbacks in the Pine Belt. However, a large part of his success over the past few years has been the presence of wide receivers Donnell Buckner and Rickey Thomas, both of whom have graduated. In 2017, Tribett threw for 16 touchdowns, 1,736 yards, 10 interceptions. Tribett also ran for 268 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“I wouldn’t trade Jared Tribett for anybody in this state and there are some good ones out there,” Jones said. “He’s my guy. He’s a guy that I believe in and has 100 percent faith in. We’ve asked him to take on a bigger role in some things. He’s done a really good job of that and has had a really good summer.”
The question for Lumberton’s offense will be replenishing their wide receiver corps. With two of their top receivers gone to graduation, developing a valuable receiver who can supplement the production lost will be a concentration for Lumberton.
The backfield is arguably the best running back duo in the Pine Belt with Henry and senior Davion Edwards. Last year they combined for 20 touchdowns and 1,995 yards while averaging 6.5 yards per carry, which easily made them the premier duo of running backs in 1-A football.
“[Henry] does not have to be the guy, he just has to be a guy,” Jones said. “We’ve got Davion there who we can spell him with. I don’t expect any kind of slump out of [Henry]. [Henry] is leading the team this summer in workouts. [Henry is] always out doing something extra. [Henry] doesn’t have to be the guy who runs it 40 times a game, we do have Davion who we have to get touches to because he does do things that does make us better.”
Complimenting that running back duo is a strong offensive line, which Coach Jones has said has been the unsung hero of his team last season. Jones expects his offensive line and running game to be solid, but he says their offense’s success will depend on the passing game.
“I think the biggest thing we have to do is establish the passing game,” Jones said. “I think we will. We can’t become one dimensional. We have got to be able to take advantage of things in the passing game.”
The Panthers return many key contributors from last season but the biggest loss for them is linebacker Dakota Walters, who recorded 370 tackles during his three-year varsity career.
For the past several years Walters and two-way player Edwards have been a force for teams to deal with defensively. Last year, Edwards recorded 107 tackles, six tackles for loss and had three fumble recoveries. Replacing Walters will be junior Cohen Hammond, who recorded 66 tackles, 8.5 TFLs and three sacks.
“I don’t expect any drop off [from Hammond],” Jones said. “Cohen is a good player. He’s played really hard for us in some important ball games.”
The secondary may feature the most experienced group of players with the return of junior Jayson Buckley, who led the team with six interceptions and senior leader CK Bowens, who had two interceptions, a fumble recovery and 54 tackles.
“[Bowens] is a three-year starter,” Jones said. “He’s the quarterback in the secondary and gets us lined up where we’re supposed to be. Not the biggest, not the fastest, not the strongest, but God bless he can make some plays.”
In many defensive positions, Lumberton returns experience and bigger players in most spots, most notably a bigger defensive line which now is up to an average of 208 pounds. However, much of the defense will depend and focus on Edwards’ play.
“Davion is your bell cow,” Jones said. “Everybody knows it. Everything we try to do defensively funnels through him. He’s a guy who can get us lined and get us where we’re supposed to be. He’s going to have to think big for us.”
Names to remember:
Senior Daylan Young is the top returning wide receiver from last season with 27 catches for 225 yards. Young was a silent contributor last year and is expected to be the replacement for Buckner and Thomas, which sets him up to boost his numbers.
“I think Daylan Young can be a guy that people look up and go wow,” Jones said. “I think he has worked real to prove that he can be that go-to guy as far as receivers are concerned.”
Junior outside linebacker junior Xavier Holder missed last season due to an ACL injury that occurred just before the start of the season. As a freshman, he started and produced 95 tackles, 8.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries. Holder is now two inches taller and 15 pounds heavier, and he is set to make a notable return.
Games to watch:
Season opener North Forrest, defending 2A State champions Taylorsville and Resurrection Catholic stand out the most in the Panthers’ upcoming schedule.
Pine Belt teams playing each other are always fun to watch, and the Lumberton-North Forrest game will be no exception. In a close contest, Lumberton stopped North Forrest in the final minutes of the game last season. This year that game will be on the road, with both teams looking forward to the matchup.
Taylorsville returns a lot of talent again and there is a strong chance both teams can enter the game undefeated. Lumberton would like to avenge last year’s 48-22 loss to the Tartars. With that game being a home contest for the Panthers, it will be interesting to watch the two powerhouses go at it again.
Lumberton should have Region 4-1A locked up with the return of so many starters. However, Resurrection Catholic took down the Panthers in the playoffs, which could make this game a fun one to watch.