SPIVEY’S CORNER — Midway was one of five football teams from the six-member East Central 2A Conference to qualify for the state playoffs last season.
Raiders coach Cory Barnes led the group to a 2-3 league record, 8-3 overall, and says his squad’s competitive, lunch pail, mindset is even more important for a shortened 2020-21 slate.
“Our kids are tough. They carry a blue collar mentality, and we have to with the [teams] that we play,” Barnes said after Midway’s only scrimmage this past Saturday, hosting North Lenoir.
Spring Creek’s decision to compete as an independent this season makes for an even greater challenge for the Raiders’ postseason hopes as the conference will split into two separate divisions. The league’s top four teams will compete in the ECC tournament, scheduled for the final two weeks of the season.
Midway has guaranteed matchups with Clinton, East Duplin and James Kenan, but Barnes holds the team’s two nonconference tuneups with equal importance.
“We got to start off 1-0 and take it one week at a time,” he said.
“We got to stack some wins and get some momentum so we can compete for the conference tournament.”
The Week 1 matchup features longtime Sampson County rival Hobbton, a game that always makes for a tense atmosphere.
Barnes says the success of this year’s Raiders team will lean heavily on the right arm of junior quarterback Wyatt Holland, who threw for 1,585 yards, 17 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
“We go from him being a sophomore quarterback, managing a game, to making plays for us to win games. That’s gonna be the jump he makes,” Barnes said of Holland.
“If he wants to be really successful, he’s gonna have to do that to get to the next level. He knows that we go as he goes right now.”
Holland has a host of returners on offense with plenty of experience, starting with junior receivers Lane and Thornton Baggett. The Baggett brothers combined for over 400 yards receiving and five touchdowns as sophomores and Barnes says he’s encouraged by their sure hands and ability to get open in space.
Up front, Jordan Strickland at center and Cole Bedard at right guard, return from last year looking to take the lead on the offensive line.
In the backfield, Isaiah McClendon is expected to assume the starting role after supporting Deantae Byrd, the former Raiders lead back who had over 1,000 yards rushing last year as a senior. McClendon will also look to continue contributing as a middle linebacker in Barnes’ 3-4 defense.
Senior outside linebacker Tyler Godwin could have the biggest impact, attempting to build off a busy offseason that saw him compete with some of the nation’s top defenders at events like the VTO All-American Challenge last month.
“Tyler is taking the edge away ... that way we can, hopefully, take away one side of the field with him,” Barnes said of the 6-2, 225-pound athlete.
Starting safety Jonathan Cooper joined McClendon and Godwin to account for nearly 100 tackles last season.
“They’re really learning how to get in their run fits and coverage, and being physical,” Barnes said of the defense throughout preseason practices and one scrimmage.
Barnes feels overall team depth and run blocking are the only concerns as the Raiders head into Thursday’s showdown against Hobbton.
“It’s a work in progress ... they’ll learn and keep getting better and better,” he said.
Thursday’s opener is set for 6 p.m. at Midway.
Donnell Coley can be reached at email@example.com