Nov. 2—LAURINBURG — A four-game stretch at home is set to conclude Saturday when St. Andrews celebrates senior day in their final game at Knights Field this season against the Pikeville Bears.
It's been a rough season for the Knights, 0-9 on the season and 0-4 in Appalachian Athletic Conference competition but that won't halt their motivation to replace the doughnut in the win column.
"We've got to give back to the community; let's give them a win or two," St. Andrews head coach Bob Curtin said. "We're 0-9, and that's really hard to get behind. People want to talk about us. You see the support from the community; we're seeing people from not only Laurinburg and Scotland (County). We're seeing people from Moore County. We're seeing people from Fayetteville. We're seeing people now from Marlboro County. I think people see where we're at, and I think they're as hopeful as we are that we're going to turn this around with one or two more good recruiting classes."
St. Andrews is coming off their best statistical offensive performance, with 289 total yards in a 62-15 loss to Cumberland (Tenn.) since a 49-14 loss at Bluefield (Va.) on Sep. 30, where they put up 336 yards.
A big reason for the larger offensive output was the success through the air, as quarterback Darius Holly finished 14-of-18 passing for 2019 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Curtin wants to build on that against Pikeville and gave credit to the run game for helping to pass the ball more effectively.
"The run game is really what opened up that pass game for us," Curtin said. "If you look at it, they (Cumberland) started putting seven, eight guys in a box; that's what opened up our pass game. (Look at) what Nahjiir (Seagraves) did when they didn't put seven in the box; they had five. He turned it up and ran two people over. We've got great wide receivers. We've got some quarterbacks now that we know can throw the ball. So, it's got to be a good mix of run and pass. We want to establish a run game, so that allows us to throw the ball."
Pikeville (6-3, 4-1 AAC) is on a three-game win streak, their most recent one coming in a 42-31 final against Point last Saturday. The offense — mainly the passing game — has been a help to the Bears this year, as they're averaging 307 passing yards and 35 points per game.
QB Lee Kirkland is responsible for most of that production, with 2,362 passing yards, 27 TDs (three rushing), only five interceptions, and a 143.84 rating.
"(They've) got a prolific quarterback, probably the best in the conference right now," Curtin said. "I was overhearing the defensive coordinator, (Trent) Fredericks, (talk) about the Pikeville's quarterback's capabilities. You could hear that (our) cornerbacks are going to challenge themselves."
St. Andrews' secondary has been one of their bright spots of late, with three interceptions in the last three games. They'll be tasked with trying to contain Pikeville wide receivers Derrick Griffith II (52 receptions, 665 yards, five TDs), Diego Soto (30 catches, 4428 yards, six TDs), Ben Henson (23 grabs, 422 yards, four TDs), Bralin Barton (33 receptions, 354 yards, three TDs), and D'Andre Stafford (19 catches, 280 yards, five TDs).
"The good thing about DBs (defensive backs) is they have this interesting mentality," Curtin said. "They're almost like a diva. And I don't think we need to say much to them or do much to get them riled up. It's like a personal pride thing to them. But at the end of the day, they're really competitive, they're really aggressive, and these guys are young. They're all freshmen except for (Lavarius Heath-Lewis) and (Eduardo Turnbull Jr.). But the other five guys, they're all freshmen. And it's nice to see them get a little better each week."
Where St. Andrews has struggled all season has been stopping the ground game; the Knights are allowing 253.3 rushing yards to opponents.
While the Bears don't run the ball as efficiently as they do passing it, running back Alex Sanders has still run for 539 yards and six TDs on 114 carries; Sanders also has 39 receptions for 295 yards and two scores. Behind him is RB Adrian Medacco with 39 rushes for 234 yards and a TD, and RB Tyrese Christian with 36 rushing attempts for 176 yards and a TD.
On defense, Pikeville has recorded 47 tackles for loss, the most coming from defensive lineman Myson Livingston with five, and has five other players with four tackles for loss or more (linebackers Chuck Moore, Jacquez Russ, Trevaughn Barne, and Levi Evans, and DL Ahmante Altman). The team's leading tackler is Evans with 62 (40 solo), Livingston and DL Ben Tate each have a team-high 2 1/2 sacks, and defensive backs Timothy Butler and Obie Wilson have a combined six interceptions (three each).
For the Knights to have a chance at victory, Curtin said his offense has to get through Pikeville's defense and can't come away with zero points in their opponent's territory.
"We're not finishing on offense," Curtin said. "That's been our Achilles heel all year. We're getting better offensively. It's now about discipline. And I'm not even talking about the turnover battle. I'm just talking about personal discipline, where we can take these nice long drives offensively and take these three and outs ... and turn them into points, turn them into advantages for us on the scoreboard."
St. Andrews' special teams also have to be better than they've been, too, Curtin said.
"Hopefully, our special teams have a repeat performance (of last weekend), with the exception of the one run back," Curtin said. "We have landmarks: goal line, goal post, hash marks, numbers, and sideline. When we jump inside or outside of those landmarks, we create seams for really good people to return the ball. And that's what happened there. We can't do that. And it's hard for young guys, especially freshmen out of high school because they're so used to being the guy at their high school. And they're so used to being able to do it and get away with it. It's never intentional. It's somebody trying to do a little bit more for the team, which is okay. But we need them disciplined."
Kickoff for Saturday's game is at noon. It will be the first-ever matchup between Pikeville and St. Andrews in football. This is Pikeville's first season in the AAC after they left the Mid-South Conference during the offseason.