There will be a Wake County team in the 4AA football championship game for the sixth time in the last eight years.
That much was assured when Pinecrest bowed out of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs last week, leaving nothing but Wake County schools left in the 4AA East bracket entering the third round.
After finishing runner-up in the first four of those 4AA state championship game appearances (one by Garner, Wake Forest in three), Wake Forest broke through last year for the county and won it its first NCHSAA football title since 1987.
ROUND 3 PREVIEW
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4AA - 1-Wake Forest vs. 4-Sanderson: If there’s one team that’s given Wake Forest (12-0) fits over the last five years, you could argue it’s Sanderson (9-3). The Spartans held Wake Forest to its lowest regular-season point total last year, lost 26-9 in 2015 despite ending the year 4-7 to Wake Forest’s 12-1 and upset Wake Forest in 2013 after throwing a late interception only to strip the defender and run the interception-turned-fumble-return into the end zone to win 14-10. This is the Spartans’ first time in the third round in school history and second straight nine-win season. Wake Forest is on a 28-game winning streak.
4AA - 2-Green Hope vs. 3-Garner: You don’t reach this round without playing good football late in the year, and both teams are on seven-game winning streaks. This is just the second time Green Hope (10-2) has made it to the third round – the first coming in 2004 – while Garner (8-4) is making its 13th appearance, and seventh in the last eight years. Both teams have shown balance offensively but lean toward airing it out. Present-day Green Hope opened in 1999, but has only played Garner twice in school history. The previous Green Hope High, which burned down in 1963, played Garner in other sports,
4A - 1-Scotland vs. 4-South Central: The Falcons’ best season in school history heads to Laurinburg and the powerhouse Fighting Scots (10-1). Scotland was dealt a blow this week when it was revealed that star running back Zamir White, ranked the nation’s best at his position, tore his ACL in the last round. White is a Georgia recruit. South Central’s high-powered offense (52.5 ppg) is led by dual-threat quarterback and 4A hurdles champ Dexter McDuffie, who has more than 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 rushing. Can the South Central (10-2) defense (allowing 27.2 ppg) slow down a White-less Scotland team?
4A - 2-Hoggard vs. 6-Heritage: Heritage (12-1) goes to Wilmington to face a Hoggard (12-0) team that has traditionally been a tough out for Wake County teams. Hoggard hasn’t allowed any team to reach the 21-point mark and has held 11 of its opponents to 14 points or less. The Huskies, whose only loss this year is to No. 1 4AA seed Wake Forest, are in the third round for the second straight year and have now played undefeated teams in three of the last four weeks. Heritage lost to Wake Forest 38-14 to end the regular season and knocked off Cardinal Gibbons 34-6 in the second round.
3AA - 1-Clayton vs. 4-Eastern Guilford: Clayton (13-0) is undefeated but gets a doozy of a 4-seed in reigning 3AA East champ Eastern Guilford in what should be a physical third-round game. The Wildcats (11-2) may be most famous for Terrence and Torry Holt, but last year was their first time in the state title game. Eastern Guilford has won eight straight and only last week did it allow an opponent to score more than 19 points in a game (holding the state’s No. 1 offense, D.H. Conley, to 29). Similarly, Clayton hadn’t allowed an opponent more than 14 points in a game until last week’s 40-35 win over Cleveland.
3A - 2-Havelock vs. 3-Southern Nash: Since 2009, Havelock (12-1) has won three state championships, finishing runner-up in another and reached the 3A East final on three other occasions. Southern Nash gets the opportunity to be just the second team to stop the Rams from marching onto the East final this decade. The Firebirds (12-1) are rolling: no one in the state has scored as many points through two rounds of the playoffs as Southern Nash, which dropped 76 in its opening game and 62 last week.
2AA - 2-North Davidson vs. 3-South Granville: The best season in South Granville’s history keeps rolling along, and this will be the steepest test yet for the Vikings (13-0). North Davidson (12-1), which enters on a 12-game win streak, was a 4A team last year, but was placed into 2A because of its projected enrollment drop when a new high school – Oak Grove – opened nearby this year. North Davidson’s enrollment (1,300) is still much larger than any other 2A school as it takes a few years for Oak Grove’s impact to settle in, but in the meantime it means many Black Knights players have had success on the 4A level.
1AA - 1-Tarboro vs. 5-West Montgomery: Tarboro (12-0) has allowed 49 points all season, but this could be a game worthy of the Vikings. West Montgomery (11-2) is the reigning state 1AA runner-up and has reached the 1AA West final (the Warriors had always been in the West bracket until this year) four times since 2009. Tarboro is a win away from reaching the 1AA East final for the second straight season, and two away from reaching the state title game for the first time since 2012.
All times 7:30 p.m.
1-Wake Forest vs. 4-Sanderson
2-Green Hope vs. 3-Garner
1-Scotland vs. 4-South Central
2-Hoggard vs. 6-Heritage
1-Clayton vs. 4-Eastern Guilford
2-New Hanover vs. 11-Cape Fear
1-Western Alamance vs. 5-Jacksonville
2-Havelock vs. 3-Southern Nash
1-East Duplin vs. 4-Randleman
2-North Davidson vs. 3-South Granville
1-Northeastern vs. 5-Wallace-Rose Hill
2-East Bladen vs. 3-Southwest Onslow
1-Tarboro vs. 5-West Montgomery
2-Edenton Holmes vs. 6-Lakewood
1-North Duplin vs. 5-Pamlico County
2-Northampton County vs. 6-Plymouth