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For FCS, a win Friday would mean another program first

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Faith Christian’s Shaikey Hardy, center, runs during a September game against Rocky Mount Academy. The Patriots can secure a home playoff game with a win Friday.

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BY SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writer

Thursday, October 18, 2018

On the eve of the Patriots’ regular season finale, on a practice field tucked away on Faith Christian School’s campus behind its 14-month old football field, a fluent language was being spoken on Thursday afternoon.

It was football speak — shovel-passes, fold-blocking, gaps — from Patriots’ coach Russell Weinstein that filled the air.

And the 25-man roster for the 6-1 second-year program, ahead of a game against Arendell Parrott Academy on Friday, was picking up what the veteran coach was putting down.

“The stuff he says don’t sound like a different language anymore,” senior quarterback Sam Mills said. “He’s talking about pulling and fold-blocking and it’s like, ‘OK, I understand what that means.’ Last year, it was like, ‘You’ve got to tell me what to do again.’”

Indeed, this year’s team has shed its requisite title from last year as a first-year program. This year, the Patriots are just a football team among the field in the NCISAA’s 2-A, and through seven games, they’ve been a good one.

After winning four games last season, they’ve eclipsed that mark by two already. They’ve beaten longtime rival Rocky Mount Academy for the first time in three tries, and they’ve qualified for the postseason for the second time in its two-year existence.

“I think we’ve met all of our goals up to this point,” said Weinstein, who quelled too-high expectations before the 2018 season began. “Year No. 2 of the program — I think it’s fair to say that we’re slightly ahead of schedule.”

In Friday’s home game against the Arendell Parrott Academy at 7 p.m., FCS will have another chance to add a first to its program.

In the playoff picture, St. David’s has clinched the No. 1 seed for the four-team bracket. Rocky Mount Academy has all but clinched the No. 4 seed, which they can make official with a victory against winless Cary Christian.

The two seeds left to be decided are No. 2 and No. 3. FCS and APA occupy those spots and are both 4-1 in conference, so whoever wins Friday will host the other in the first round of the playoffs.

For the seniors — the large majority of which had never held a football in a real game before 2017 — that would be a highlight to a surprising, successful and so-far fulfilling two-year career.

“That would be pretty crazy. I hope that wouldn’t be my last game, either,” Mills said, alluding to a shot at a championship game with the winner of the game between St. David’s and, in all likelihood, Rocky Mount Academy.

“I’d love to have a home football playoff game before my football career is over, because I’m probably not going to college for it,” he continued, laughing.

Last year, in FCS’s 10th ever game, the Patriots traveled up the street for a first round playoff game against RMA, eventually losing, 35-16, against the the soon-to-be state champions.

“That being a playoff game was kind of like, ‘Wow.’ It snuck up on us,” senior Chase Johnson said. “I felt like we were ready to play but we didn’t have the experience fully needed. Being a senior this season, winning and having a home playoff game would be huge. ”

In that game against the Eagles last year, a first-year program’s season ended. To an outsider, they overachieved.

This year, the Patriots are just another team hoping for a state title.

“This team and program, as much progress as we made in year one, we just weren't quite ready for that stage,” said Weinstein, who, after coming out of retirement for the second time, is in his 35th year coaching prep football. “Having another offseason with them, them having played football for a year, they had a great summer. They worked hard. They were definitely ahead of where we ended coming into this year.”

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