A PERFECT STORM
Perfection is on the line tonight as 4-0 Orange travels to Pittsboro to meet 4-0 Northwood in the Big Eight 3-A Conference showdown of the season.
Orange is ranked No. 8 in the state among 3-A programs and Northwood No. 25 by MaxPreps.com, the online partner of the N.C. High School Athletic Association.
Orange is No. 7 (3-A) in this week’s Associated Press state poll. Northwood is unranked in the 10-team AP poll.
Orange vs. Pittsboro is one of 13 games involving area teams on tap tonight. Only three others — Greensboro Dudley at Northern, Chapel Hill at Oxford Webb and Bartlett-Yancey at Roxboro Person — will be played in the area, the rest on the road.
Travel itineraries are extensive tonight as Hillside travels to Nashville Nash Central, Southern to Henderson Northern Vance, East Chapel Hill to Jamestown Ragsdale, Jordan to Southern Pines Pinecrest, Riverside to Clayton Cleveland, Cedar Ridge to Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons and South Granville to Burlington Cummings, Granville Central to Franklinton, Kestrel Heights to Raleigh Wake Christian.
Carrboro, ranked No. 10 among the state’s 2-A programs by the AP despite two straight losses, has a bye tonight.
In addition to Orange-Northwood, conference openers tonight include Southern-Northern Vance, Chapel Hill-Webb and Cedar Ridge-Cardinal Gibbons, all in the Big Eight.
Everyone else is playing a non-conference game for the fifth time.
The showdown in Pittsboro could give a glimpse of a potential state champion and both teams should be fully prepared and as healthy as they can be after resting through bye weeks.
Orange tied for third in the state 3-AA playoffs a year ago after losing in the East Region finals. Northwood is playing its first season at the 3-A level after moving up from the 2-A ranks.
Both teams are loaded.
Orange opened with three straight wins over PAC-6 4-A opponents, has posted two straight shutouts and its first-team defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown all season as the Panthers have outscored the opposition 155-22.
Northwood can’t match the Panthers’ defensive numbers, but holds a 158-70 scoring edge in its first four games.
Potent offenses best both defenses tonight.
Orange has a young quarterback in potential star Garrett Cloer and a large stable of versatile running backs, including 100-yard backs Tay Jones and Drew Lemaster. But the Panthers played without star back Patrick Pettiford (ankle) two weeks ago and it remains to be seen if he’ll be at full strength tonight. His return would diversify Cloer’s options.
Northwood should have all its offensive stars at full speed. They include the all-junior trio of quarterback Ti Pinnix (1,248 yards, 14 touchdowns, three interceptions, 59 percent completion rate), slotback Kadarus Rone (82 yards rushing, 68 receiving per game, nine touchdowns) and receiver Jalen Smith (139 receiving yards per game, eight touchdowns).
Here’s a rundown of tonight’s other matchups:
Hillside (2-2) at Nash Central (0-5) — Hillside has lost two straight games to top teams in Greensboro Dudley and Charlotte Country Day but remains among the top-ranked teams in the state by MaxPreps.com, coming in at 25th (all classifications) and 19th (4-A). The Hornets shouldn’t have much trouble stopping winless 3-A Nash Central.
Jordan (1-4) at Pinecrest (5-0) — The out-manned Falcons would be hard-pressed to keep up with the state’s 33rd-ranked program (24th 4-A), but it’s a daunting task on the road.
Riverside (3-2) at Cleveland (3-2) — Riverside’s been the surprise team of the PAC-6 4-A to date, winning twice in as many outings on the road and posting a winning record despite being outscored 136-112 on the year. Class 3-A Cleveland offers the Pirates a shot at another win, but they’ll need a big game from back Joel Evans to make it happen.
East Chapel Hill (1-4) at Ragsdale (1-4) — On paper, this would appear to be another toss-up game with disappointing East Chapel Hill taking on a Ragsdale team with an identical 1-4 record. But Ragsdale’s losses have all come to Greensboro area powerhouses. Three of East’s four losses have come to teams from lower attendance classifications.
Bartlett Yancey (2-3) at Roxboro Person (1-4) — The Rockets of the PAC-6 4-A host a 2-A school and have a chance, but nothing’s come easy for Person this season so the Rockets will have to be at their best to pick up a second win.
Southern (2-2) at Northern Vance (0-4) — Southern went through the meat of its non-conference schedule early and paid the price with a 1-2 start. The Spartans got past winless Northern last week and are overwhelming favorites against winless Northern Vance. The home team’s been outscored 163-72 on the year and Southern’s offense will likely fatten that first number past the 200 mark this week.
Greensboro Dudley (4-0) at Northern (0-5) — First-year Northern coach R.J. Wilson is looking at the non-conference season as a classroom for a young Knights team. Good thing, since Northern is likely to get schooled tonight by the state’s No. 11-ranked team overall (MaxPreps). Dudley features 4-star Clemson prospect Chris Register at defensive end and Tennessee commit Emmanuel Mosley at quarterback. Those two helped Dudley shut down Hillside. On the year, Dudley’s outscoring its opponents 130-17. Northern, on the other hand, is being outscored 205-51.
Chapel Hill (1-3) at Oxford Webb (2-2) — Chapel Hill picked up its first win (over East Chapel Hill) last week and that eased the memory of some tight losses in the Tigers’ first three games (Riverside in OT, Carrboro by one point). This is a great opportunity for Chapel Hill to go to 1-0 in the Big Eight against a Webb team whose two wins have come against 1-A and 2-A teams.
Cedar Ridge (0-4) at Cardinal Gibbons (3-1) — Cedar Ridge struggled as a 2-A program a year ago and has actually improved on the field as a 3-A member this year. Of its four losses, three were by a touchdown or less. On the minus side, Gibbons is a traditional 3-A power and doesn’t offer much of a target of opportunity.
South Granville (3-1) at Burlington Cummings (1-4) — South Granville lost to state 3-A power Rocky Mount on the road to open the season, but hasn’t looked back. South owns back-to-back shutout routs of Carrboro and Webb to go with a rout of Chapel Hill heading into this one. The Vikings are overwhelming favorites to win on the road.
Granville Central (3-2) at Franklinton (4-0) — Granville Central’s coming off an 80-0 shellacking of Kestrel Heights, but could face a long night of football against 2-A power Franklinton on the road.
Kestrel Heights (0-5) at Wake Christian Academy (2-3) — Kestrel Heights hasn’t won a game in years going on six seasons — and has never beaten a fellow varsity program. With the 80-0 loss to Granville Central still fresh in the Hawks’ minds, a win over a Wake Christian team that counts Chatham Central and Hobbton as victims isn’t likely.