Simpson, Pats Face Wildcats' Pass Attack
D.J. Simpson is likely to be one of the busiest people at Legion Stadium in Wilmington when Pinecrest (3-2) takes on the aerial circus of New Hanover (3-1) tonight beginning at 7:30 p.m.
The 13th-ranked Wildcats are one of four teams the Patriots will meet in their final six regular-season games that are ranked among the top 14 by NCPreps.com.
Quarterback Bates Taylor has completed 80 of 120 passes for 1,215 yards and 14 touchdowns with six interceptions.
In their last game, a 49-21 win over Purnell Swett two weeks ago, Taylor threw for 356 yards, including 10 catches by wide receiver Daquan Barnes for 178 yards.
The strategy for the ground-oriented Patriots is pretty much a no-brainer.
“They’re going to throw the ball 75 percent of the time so it’s a long day, a long day, “ Patriot coach Chris Metzger said during a pre-dawn film-watching session with his assistants on Wednesday. “We’ve just got to play disciplined and it’s a game (in which) we have to control the clock.”
Simpson, a strong safety and the team’s leader in tackles, had six solos in last week’s 41-14 win over Western Harnett.
A member of all but one of the Patriot special teams, he also blocked a field goal attempt and had two long kickoff returns that helped set up touchdowns.
He is also likely to be one of the first on the scene to make a tackle when the Patriot punting and kickoff teams see action.
“I kind of like it because over the summer we did a lot conditioning and my body got used to it,” the 5-foot-8, 170-pound senior said. “I just like being on the field, helping my team any way I can.”
One of the Patriot team captains, he is a son of Dwayne Simpson and Charlene Caddell. His brother Dewayne, a junior, is the Patriot’s second-leading rusher behind quarterback Travis Scales. Along with Scales and center Steve Pollard, he is one of three Patriots that were starters on the 10-3 team in 2009.
In all of his roles, Simpson is a playmaker. As a junior, he was third on the team in tackles and returned two of his four fumble recoveries for touchdowns.
Metzger talked about how Simpson worked his way up from being a member of the freshmen B team in 2008 to a starter on the varsity late in his sophomore year.
“He was on the scout team defense and our offensive staff said, ‘You’ve got to check this kid out,’” the coach recalled. “The next thing you know, we had some injuries and he’s playing varsity.
“D.J. is a bundle of dynamite, a hard worker, passionate, an emotional leader. He’s really a hybrid linebacker because he loves to hit.”
In the Patriots’ 27-15 loss to Barron Collier two weeks ago, Simpson demonstrated his resiliency as an athlete. In the second quarter, he committed a fumble on a punt return with the Patriots leading 13-0 that led to a Collier score. His interception late in the third period put them in a position to regain the lead after they fell behind.
“I felt terrible after the fumble and everyone on the sideline was saying, ‘D.J., keep your head up, you’re going to make up for it,’” he said. “Anybody that makes a mistake wants to come back harder and make a big play for the team and I happened to have that chance.”
Led by Scales, with 517 yards on 95 carries and nine touchdowns, the Patriots have averaged 272 yards per game on the ground. Scales has also completed 27 of 51 passes for 424 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions.
Pinecrest is the third team from the Southeastern Conference on New Hanover’s schedule this season. The Cats only loss was 49-28 to Scotland County. Tonight’s game presents the biggest challenge so far for a Patriot defense that has played well with a lot of new personnel from a year ago
“This year we’ve got a diverse group of players that are good at certain things,” Simpson said. “We have a lot of potential. We’re going to be prepared for every team and go out and lay it on the line.”
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