Lee County is in a new football conference this season, and the Yellow Jackets face likely their toughest Cape Fear Valley test tonight at Douglas Byrd. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Yellow Jacket head coach Burton Cates is trying to draw on lessons learned last season when his squad was heading into a major conference showdown with first place in the balance. Last September, the Jackets traveled to Middle Creek for a key Tri-Nine game and Middle Creek hung on for a 21-19 win.
Lee County went on to a fine season, reaching the second round of the state playoffs, but not the Tri-Nine crown.
"(Friday night) has the makings of another game of that nature," Cates said.
"We're happy with our progress and the way we've improved so far this season. Gray's Creek and Douglas Byrd were the preseason favorites and we knew, coming into the season, it was going to take going through Fayetteville Byrd to win the championship," Cates said.
Lee County had little problem running Gray's Creek out of Sanford last Friday. The Yellow Jackets rolled to a 30-0 halftime lead and won 36-9.
The Jacket defense had another outstanding performance. Lee County's allowing 11.7 points per game. The Jackets held Gray's Creek's major strength, its running game, to 66 yards.
Douglas Byrd's offense, coming off a 58-12 win over Southern Lee last Friday in Fayetteville, presents more to be ready for. The Eagles, Gray's Creek and Overhills - now in the 4A Mid-South Athletic Conference - were tri-champs of the CFVC a season ago.
"Douglas Byrd is a very balanced team, running and passing, so that makes it that much more difficult to defend," Cates said. "We have a great challenge in front of us as far as defending well versus them."
The Eagles (4-2, 1-0) are led by senior running back/punter/returner Alonzo Hurtado. Hurtado's the top rusher, with 592 yards and seven touchdowns, and receiver, having 23 catches for 317 yards from fellow senior quarterback Elijah Bulger, for the Eagles.
"(Douglas Byrd) has 30 seniors, so they're a very experienced team and they have a lot of team speed," Cates said.
Douglas Byrd's defense has 16 sacks and has come up with 11 interceptions on the season.
In three lopsided wins in a row, versus Western Harnett, Overhills and last Friday in the CFVC opener, the Yellow Jackets (5-1, 1-0) have turned in plenty of big plays.
Senior defensive lineman Brandon Prevatte has three fumble recoveries and junior linebacker Will Shoop has three interceptions. Shoop's interception and return for a touchdown sparked Lee County in turning an early Overhills lead into what became a 52-12 lead.
A Gray's Creek fumble, then a safety against the Bears, followed one snap later by a Jacket touchdown run, added up to a 23-0 Lee County lead less than eight minutes into the game.
Offensively, Jerry Pullum, who carried for five touchdowns last Friday, has 848 rushing yards, at 9.6 yards per carry, and 16 touchdowns for the season. Keyonta McDougald is the leading Jacket receiver with 10 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown. Lee County is averaging 264 yards per game.