Southern High bids for state 3-AA title berth Friday against Hunt
Southern’s road through the playoffs has had a familiar feel to it but that will change Friday night when the Spartans host Wilson Hunt at 7:30 with a berth in the 3-AA state championship game on the line.
The state title game will pit the Eastern 3-AA champion, Southern or Hunt, against its Western counterpart Saturday, Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. at Wake Forest University’s BB&T Field in Winston-Salem.
Western No. 1 seed Shelby Crest (13-1) will host three-time defending state champion and No. 3 seed Northern Guilford (12-2) in the Western title game Friday.
Southern (12-2) got through its Big Eight 3-A Conference slate without a blemish and then had the task of beating three of those teams again during the playoffs. The Spartans were up to the task as they dispatched Chapel Hill, Cardinal Gibbons and Orange in that order for a second time. Southern’s only losses this season were to state 4-A power programs Scotland County and Hillside.
Southern coach Adrian Jones said he was happy to finally be playing a team from outside the conference following Southern’s narrow 31-24 victory over Orange on Friday.
“Isn’t that something?” Jones said. “We finally get to play somebody other than the Big Eight. But that just shows you how good the Big Eight is. My hat is off to the Big Eight and we’re going to try to bring it back for the conference.”
The Spartans advanced thanks to a 70-yard interception return by Marvin Tillman. It was Tillman’s fourth interception of the season. But none were more important for Southern to advance to the fourth round of the playoffs for the second time during Jones’ seven season as the Spartans’ coach.
“When I saw the quarterback draw back to throw, I just drove on the ball and made the play and I just ran it back,” Tillman said of his pick off Orange backup quarterback Bryse Wilson. “That was the biggest play I’ve ever made. It got us to the next round. It was a real big play.”
Jones said he had tried to get Tillman to make similar plays earlier in the game against Orange starter Garrett Cloer, who was injured in the second half and replaced by Wilson.
“One time (Tillman) almost had it but what perfect timing to do it right there at the end to seal the deal,” Jones said.
Thanks to Tilllman’s interception and a timely upset by No. 4 regional seed Hunt, the No. 2 seed Spartans will be playing at home for the fourth straight week.
Hunt (11-3), which has won its last nine in a row, won at East Region No. 1 seed Fayetteville Douglas Byrd 20-14 last week and will be playing in its fourth consecutive Eastern 3-AA championship game.
The prior three appearances all resulted in losses to Northern Guilford, which went on to win state titles each time.
Jones said having another home game would be a positive factor for Spartans.
“We love it and we’ll take it any way we can get it,” Jones said. “We’ll get ready for Hunt and hopefully we can get to the championship game.”
NOTES — Hunt coach Stevie Hinnant might not have to face Northern Guilford in a state semifinals rematch since Northern was bumped into the West Regional playoffs this season, but said Hunt didn’t get a break picking up a game at Southern. “Southern’s very, very athletic,” Hinnant said. “We hope to slow them down, we can’t contain them.”
— Staff writer Mark Donovan contributed to this report.