FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
“Intense” is the word Northern High coach R.J. Wilson uses to describe the Knights’ football rivalry with crosstown rival Southern, which will be renewed today at 7 p.m. at Durham County Memorial Stadium.
Southern alum and coach, Adrian Jones, says the Northern rivalry is more special to him than his players — “Hillside came in and took over the rivalry for the players,” Jones said. “But the game means a lot to me, and I talk to my players about it a lot.”
The rivalry has involved emotional investment with little return for the Knights of late. Northern has lost 10 straight in the series, winning most recently in 2002, according to Jones.
“Obviously, Southern’s been on the winning end for 10 years, but these kids grew up together, they know each other, it means a lot to them,” Wilson said.
Northern has had a difficult time in Wilson’s first year on the job, having replaced veteran coach Gary Merrill in the offseason. The Knights are 0-4, have been outscored 166-34 and have been playing without injured defensive starters Marcus Starr, Ladarius Perry and Raquan Riley.
All three are expected to play tonight, with cornerbacks Starr and Perry bringing the secondary back to full strength and defensive end Riley giving a hand to star lineman Kendrick Bailey up front.
Wilson knew this would be a tough season for the Knights, a playoff team a year ago that was decimated by graduation and the retirement of Merrill. The rebuilding job was stymied by a schedule that included six non-conference games to open the season, five against teams that went deep into the playoffs a year ago, the sixth — Millbrook — a traditional state heavyweight.
“We’re getting better week to week,” Wilson said. “You always want it to happen faster but bottom line, we’re gaining ground.”
Southern’s 1-2 record might lead some to believe tonight’s game is winnable for Northern, but that record is misleading. Southern, which was reclassified out of the PAC-6 4-A and is competing in the Big Eight 3-A Conference this season, no longer is a conference rival of the Knights but is a power in its own right.
The Spartans have played an even tougher schedule than Northern. Two of Southern’s losses were against current top-18 teams in the state in No. 4 Scotland County (53-31) and No. 18 Hillside (29-24) and Southern led Hillside in the fourth quarter.
“We’re in a good place,” Jones said. “Playing a tough schedule really helps with your coaching. You get a chance to evaluate what you’re going to work on. Some people say it can kill your morale, but I don’t agree.”
The Spartans are averaging 39 points a game and giving up 32 — a 62-14 win at 2-A South Brunswick helping the numbers.
Southern’s offense is tough for anyone to stop, with at least three future major college players in the lineup in quarterback Kendall Hinton, wide receiver Maurice Trowell and running back William Cameron. And sophomore running back/receiver Jordan Brown, who is battling an injury and will be a game-time decision tonight, is a rising star in his own right.
Trowell (punts) and Cameron (kickoffs) are breakaway threats anytime they handle the ball.
The Spartans are dinged up and will be missing starting defensive end Isaiah Ross (thumb) and starting safety Kameron Johnson (ankle), as well as senior defensive lineman Douglas Satterfield, whose playing career was ended by a concussion in the Hillside loss.
Northern quarterback ‘Z’ Mann will have to keep the Knights on the move if Northern has any shot at the upset, but Southern probably has more than enough answers in its explosive arsenal and improving defense.
Here’s a look at tonight’s other area high school football matchups:
Charlotte Country Day School (2-1) at Hillside (2-1), 7:30 p.m. — Independent Charlotte Country Day School is no pushover. The Buccaneers lost to the state’s No. 8-ranked team and arguably its best college prospect (running back Elijah Hood) two weeks ago, 21-20. Expect CCDS to be ready for this one, ditto No. 18 Hillside, which will look to erase memories of its 24-7 loss a week ago at No. 7 Greensboro Dudley.
Hillside got nothing going offensively against Dudley despite having some of the top offensive weapons in the state in wide receiver Trevion Thompson and running back Donté Thomas-Williams. The Hornets will be counting on those two, as well as junior quarterback Nas Forté-Ferguson for big games against a defense that is allowing fewer than 10 points a game. The Buccaneers are averaging 39 per game.
CCDS has been using a rotation of two quarterbacks with great success. Senior Robert Tate has completed 20-of-29 for an average of 13.3 yards per completion with a touchdown and an interception. Sophomore Cole Bloomer is 15-of-19 for 15.5 yards per completion, three touchdowns and one interception.
Running back Sheppard Wilson, another senior, averages 4.8 yards per carry and has five touchdowns to date.
Carrboro (3-1) at South Granville (2-1), 7:30 p.m. — This battle of the area’s only two remaining 2-A programs loses some of its luster because the former Carolina 12 Conference rivals are in different leagues. South Granville normally would be the underdog in this game, but injury-riddled Carrboro could be without starters at six or seven different positions including two who play offense and defense. Worse still, the wounded include all-star tailback Trai Sharp (knee) and star wideout Marlin Johnson (ankle), who played through a sprain a week ago in a loss to Northwood.
Andy Ixcajo, a two-way lineman who missed last week with a concussion, Sharp and Johnson will be game-time decisions, and Coach Jason Tudryn said the odds on each of them playing are even.
If Johnson plays, it’ll likely only be on offense, which leaves Carrboro short a man in the secondary, where he normally would do double duty.
This week, South Granville has the weapons. Quarterback Matt McCutcheon is averaging 193.7 yards passing per game with a completion rate of 57.8 percent and 15.7 yards per completion with seven TDs and two interceptions. Running back Sean Bowman is averaging 5.65 yards per carry and 134 yards per game, while receiver Omari Armstrong averages four catches per game and 19.9 yards per catch.
Holly Springs (0-3) at Jordan (1-3), 7 p.m. — Sophomore running back Trey Staten practically is the entire Holly Springs offense with 147 carries for 424 yards and four touchdowns. That on a team that has only 962 yards total offense and seven touchdowns on the season. If Jordan can take Staten out of the equation, the Falcons have an excellent chance at picking up their second win. The visiting Golden Hawks are a run-first team, having attempted just 24 passes on the year, completing 11.
Chapel Hill (0-3) at East Chapel Hill (1-3), 7 p.m. — Chapel Hill has yet to win a game but has played two close ones, losing in overtime to Riverside and coming within a botched extra-point snap with 1:27 left of tying powerful Carrboro in a 29-28 loss.
ECH was the preseason favorite as the top challenger to PAC-6 favorite Hillside but hasn’t played like it. Chapel Hill quarterback Grant DeSelm had a great second half against Carrboro, and his passing could spell the difference. But Connor Stough is the Wildcats' answer at QB and the talented sophomore has a chance to make a name for himself in this neighborhood rivalry.h
Burlington Cummings (0-4) at Roxboro Person (1-3), 7 p.m. — The homestanding 4-A Rockets are coming off a nice road win (21-17) at South Boston (Va.) Halifax and should be favored to make it two straight against a downtrodden 2-A program in Cummings, which has been outscored 174-82 in its four losses.
Riverside (2-2) at Apex (1-2), 7:30 p.m. — This is a winnable game for the traveling Pirates, but it’s not guaranteed by any stretch. Apex has outscored its opponents 63-57 despite the two losses. The Cougars run/pass ratio basically is 2:1 w,ith Rondell James leading the ground game with 113.3 yards per game. Quarterback Grayson Boyd passes for 111 per game. Running back Joel Evans might be only 5-foot-4, but he is Riverside’s big gun, averaging more than 130 yards rushing per game.
Oxford Webb (1-2) at Pasquotank (2-1), 7 p.m. — Pasquotank is a 2-A program that has only met 1-A schools to date, so 3-A Webb should have a solid shot at evening its record, especially after getting two weeks to prepare for this one. Webb had a bye last week.
Kestrel Heights (0-3) at Granville Central (2-2), 7 p.m. — This matchup of the area’s only two 1-A football-playing programs is weighted heavily on Granville Central’s side. The Panthers have played better than that 2-2 mark would indicate, outscoring the opposition 164-70. Kestrel Heights has been outscored 170-34 this season.
Isaiah Coleman has been coming on for the underdog Hawks, rushing for 226 yards the past two weeks. Do-it-all two-way star Bryce Parrott is Granville Central’s undisputed leader.
He leads the team in total offense with 440 yards and as a team-high 12 touchdowns — six rushing, three pass receptions and one each blocked punt, punt return and interception return. If that wasn’t enough, Parrott is the Panthers’ leading tackler at 10.3 per game.
NOTES — Orange (4-0), Northwood (4-0) and Cedar Ridge (0-4), all of the Big Eight Conference, have tonight off ... The Big Eight has ordered its member schools to begin all conference games at 7 p.m. Chapel Hill, which originally scheduled most of its home games for 7:30, took the edict a step further and will play all home games at 7 p.m., athletic director Tod Morgan said.