Oct. 24, 2013 @ 11:05 PM

Truly meaningful games are few and far between tonight, a respite night of sorts for the top programs in the area.

In Durham, PAC-6 4-A co-leaders Northern (2-6, 2-0 PAC-6) and Hillside (5-2, 2-0 PAC-6) meet at Hillside’s Russell Blunt Stadium at 7 p.m., but Hillside is a prohibitive favorite despite Northern’s two-game win streak.

The Northern-Hillside matchup is one of only two between league leaders tonight.

In Louisburg, Tar-Roanoke 1-A Conference co-leaders Granville Central (5-3, 2-0 T-R) and Louisburg (5-3, 2-0 T-R) lace ’em up.

At Jordan, Riverside (5-3, 2-1 PAC-6) will try to shrug off a 35-21 home loss to powerful Hillside and shouldn’t have much trouble as the Pirates visit injury-riddled Jordan (1-7, 0-2 PAC-6).

In Roxboro, Person (3-5, 1-1 PAC-6) looks to stay in the race for the third and final PAC-6 playoff berth, hosting East Chapel Hill (1-7, 0-2 PAC-6).

In the Big Eight 3-A Conference, Southern (6-2, 4-0 Big Eight) and Orange (8-0, 4-0 Big Eight) shouldn’t have any trouble staying undefeated in league play as they await a Nov. 8 showdown at Southern.

Southern hosts Cedar Ridge (1-7, 1-3 Big Eight) tonight, while Orange travels to Oxford Webb (2-6, 0-4 Big Eight).

All tonight’s PAC-6 and Big Eight games begin at 7 p.m.

Cardinal Gibbons (6-2, 3-1 Big Eight) will have sole possession of third place on the line as it welcomes Chapel Hill (3-5, 2-2 Big Eight) to Raleigh.

The visiting Tigers have overcome adversity but not heartbreak this season. Three of Chapel Hill’s losses have been particularly heart-rending. A botched fourth quarter extra-point try rendered moot an impressive comeback in a 29-28 loss to Carrboro. Down three in overtime to Riverside in its opener, Chapel Hill failed to score the winning touchdown on two tries from the 1-yard line. And last week, Chapel Hill held powerful Orange, ranked No. 9 among the state’s 3-A programs, scoreless until the final play of the game.

The final play was a 55-yard catch-and-run touchdown as time expired to give Orange a 6-0 win.

To top it all, Chapel Hill has been without its top two running backs — Darius Allen and Lonnie Baldwin — for most of the past two games.

Remarkably, the Tigers are very much in the playoff hunt. Heading into tonight’s game, they’re tied with Northwood for the Big Eight’s fourth and final playoff berth at 2-2 in league play with the two teams set to meet in Pittsboro Nov. 1.

Northwood (6-2, 2-2 Big Eight), has lost to Southern and Orange in league play. The Chargers were overmatched in a 41-21 loss to Orange, but came up a failed two-point try short in the final minute of a 56-54 loss at Southern Friday.

Northwood is favored to win handily tonight at Northern Vance (0-8, 0-4 Big Eight), putting the pressure on Chapel Hill to come up with the upset at Gibbons.

The Northern-Hillside game is interesting mostly since Northern could move into the top slot in the PAC-6 with a huge upset. While the Knights have only won two games after an 0-6 non-conference start, their record is skewed by the quality of the opponents they’ve played — their non-conference schedule has a degree of difficulty unlikely matched by any school in the state.

Northern was outscored 346-58 in its non-conference schedule. BUT (and there’s a rationale behind those three capital letters) here’s a look at the teams that have beaten the Knights, followed by their current records, overall state ranking in the poll (all classifications) and current ranking in their own classification.

— Southeast Guilford (8-0, 21st/15th 4-A)

— Orange (8-0, 39th/9th 3-A)

— Wakefield (7-1, 25th/18th 4-A)

— Millbrook (6-2, 47th/32nd 4-A)

— Southern (6-2, 67th/17th 3-A)

— Greensboro Dudley (7-0, 7th/4th 4-A)

Bottom line, Northern’s first six opponents have an aggregate record of 42-5, are ranked no worse than 32nd in their respective classifications — 18th if Millbrook’s 32nd 4-A rank is discounted. Millbrook dipped to 32nd after the loss of four-star offensive prospect Braxton Berrios to injury late in the Northern game.

The bad news for Northern is Hillside is more like the first six teams to which the Knights fell than the last two teams the Knights have beaten — Roxboro Person (232nd/87th 4-A) and East Chapel Hill (303rd/96th).

Hillside is ranked 38th overall and 26th in Class 4-A and has a bounty of star power in four-star running back Donté Thomas-Williams (116 carries, 966 yards, 12 TDs), four-star wide receiver Trevion Thompson (36 receptions, 538 yards, 8 TDs) and promising quarterback Nas Forté-Ferguson (69-147-1 1,389 yards, 14 TDs). Defensively, N.C. State defensive back commit Kalen McCain is the leader of a stout unit.

Here’s a look at some of the other games involving area teams tonight.

— Bunn (5-3, 2-0 Northern Carolina 2-A) at South Granville (6-2, 1-1 NC 2-A), 7:30 p.m. — South Granville was shocked on the road last week by 3-5 Southern Vance 22-14, snapping a six-game win streak. Bunn is better than Southern Vance, having outscored its opponents 254-150 on the year, but if South Granville quarterback Matt McCutcheon gets back on track in the passing game and star back Sean Bowman returns to form this week, the Vikings should be able to put away their league rivals and grab back a share of first place. Bunn is the only 2-0 team in the NC 2-A.

— Carrboro (4-4, 1-1 Mid-State 2-A) at Siler City Jordan-Matthews (2-6, 0-2 Mid-State), 7:30 p.m. — Carrboro is 1-4 after losing running back sensation Trai Sharp to a season-ending knee injury. The other half of Carrboro’s 1-2 punch, wide receiver-turned-Sharp replacement Marlin Johnson, has also missed significant time in that stretch with injuries and may not play tonight. The Jaguars should be favored in this game, but all bets are off when your best players are sitting out

— Granville Central (5-3, 2-0 Tar-Roanoke 1-A) at Louisburg (5-3, 2-0 Tar-Roanoke), 7:30 p.m. — This game could decide the Tar-Roanoke championship, although it’s only the third conference game on the schedule. With only two league games remaining after tonight, none against a team with a .500 record or better, The visiting Panthers have a golden opportunity to salt away a title. Granville Central has outscored its opponents 330-127 and 66 of those points allowed were to 2-A Franklinton and 3-A Oxford Webb. Louisburg has scored 330 points, but allowed 233. If defense wins football games, this is Granville Central’s game to lose.

— Kestrel Heights (1-7) at Fayetteville Christian (2-5), 7 p.m. — Kestrel Heights’ one win this season was against a team of home-schoolers and it still hasn’t won a game in the existence of the program against a high school varsity. The trip to Fayetteville offers an opportunity, but Kestrel Heights’ limited roster makes it difficult to forecast that first win.