The N.C. High School Athletic Association football playoffs have reached the “final four” round, and East and West regional titles will be decided on Friday. While there are only three teams left in the PrepsNow coverage area – Wake Forest and Garner in 4AA, Tarboro in 1AA – there are a lot of great storylines to go around
What to watch
Wake Forest and Garner’s common bond: The only two Wake County teams to make a NCHSAA football title game since 2009 and the last two to win them (Garner in 1987, Wake Forest in 2016) are back in the East final. Wake Forest (13-0) has won 29 straight games and it’s no surprise the Cougars are back. Garner (9-4) started the season 1-4 but has won eight in a row. But both records are indicative of coaching continuity that’s getting harder to find. Wake Forest coach Reggie Lucas returned to his alma mater right after college and was an assistant for almost two decades before getting the head coaching job in 2009. He and his staff have kept the Cougars grounded despite the hype. Garner coach Thurman Leach was an assistant for 23 years before being hired in 2013.
The top counties are...: After not advancing a team to last year’s state championships, Mecklenburg County – home to Charlotte – is back in business this year. Three teams from the same conference are still standing – Mallard Creek (13-0) and Hough (11-3) in the 4AA West final and Vance (11-3) in the 4A final – as well as Charlotte Catholic (14-0) in the 3A West and Harding (12-1) in the 4A West. Duplin County, which has about 58,000 residents – or more than 942,000 less than Mecklenburg – has three of its four high schools in the final four: North Duplin (13-0) in 1A, Wallace-Rose Hill (12-1) in 2A and East Duplin (14-0) in 2AA.
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The realignment impact: Five teams who are new to their respective classifications are doing quite well in their first year. New Hanover (13-1) hosts the 3AA East final and Charlotte Catholic the 3A West final one year after they moved down from 4A. North Davidson (13-1) is in the 2AA East final after a new school opening nearby caused the Black Knights to plummet from 4A to 2A in a year. Edenton Holmes (12-1) is in the 1AA East final after being the 2A state runner-up last year. The only team to move up in a class and have similar success is Wallace-Rose Hill (12-1), the defending 1AA state champ that’s now playing in 2A.
Havelock’s road win streak: Havelock (12-1) is on the road but has history on its side. The Rams haven’t lost on the road since 2009 as they travel to Western Alamance (14-0) in the 3A East final on Friday, riding a remarkable 46-game road winning streak. Havelock, which is playing in its eighth East final over the last nine years, has lost just 13 games over the last nine seasons, and the last 12 have been at home or in the state championship.
Tarboro’s long awaited showdown: Perhaps no East final seemed more like a no-brainer than Tarboro hosting Edenton Holmes (12-1). The Vikings (13-0) have played 2A and 3A teams but haven’t been challenged this year, allowing just 4.0 points per game. Holmes has scored at least 42 points in all of its wins and lost 41-20 to 2A Northeastern.
All times 7:30 p.m.
4AA East: 1-Wake Forest (13-0) vs. 3-Garner (9-4)
4AA West: 1-Mallard Creek (13-0) vs. 7-Hough (11-3)
4A East: 1-Scotland (11-1) vs. 2-Hoggard (13-0)
4A West: 1-Harding (12-1) vs. 6-Vance (11-3)
3AA East: 2-New Hanover (13-1) vs. 4-Eastern Guilford (12-2)
3AA West: 2-A.C. Reynolds (13-1) vs. 12-Sun Valley (11-3)
3A East: 1-Western Alamance (14-0) vs. 2-Havelock (13-1)
3A West: 1-Charlotte Catholic (14-0) vs. 3-Jay M. Robinson (12-2)
2AA East: 1-East Duplin (14-0) vs. 2-North Davidson (13-1)
2AA West: 2-Hibriten (14-0) vs. 8-Shelby (12-2)
2A East: 3-Southwest Onslow (11-3) vs. 5-Wallace-Rose Hill (12-1)
2A West: 1-Reidsville (14-0) vs. 2-Mountain Heritage (13-0)
1AA East: 1-Tarboro (13-0) vs. 2-Edenton Holmes (12-1)
1AA West: 1-Mount Airy (13-0) vs. 6-Murphy (12-2)
1A East: 1-North Duplin (13-0) vs. 6-Plymouth (9-5)
1A West: 1-Mitchell County (12-1) vs. 2-Cherokee (12-1)