Triangle regional NCHSAA prep football central: team outlooks, previews, schedule

Steve Lyttle
·12 min read

North Carolina’s public school football playoffs begin Friday night, and one thing is certain: The vast majority of teams’ seasons will end in defeat.

Of the 128 teams named last weekend by the N.C. High School Athletic Association to the playoffs, eight champions will be crowned in four weeks.

Two teams, including Leesville Road, already have been sidelined. The Pride qualified in the 4AA playoffs but have opted out of postseason play due to COVID-19 protocols. Leesville Road’s scheduled opponent, Hoggard, advances to the second round.

The same thing happened to North Stanly, seeded No. 1 in the 1AA West bracket.

So with most teams facing a season-ending loss, what would be a goal to aim for in the playoffs?

Most coaches and players would say “state championship,” but what are more attainable goals. Here are some ideas on what area teams could aim at:

Class 4AA

Apex Friendship (7-0)

Background: The Patriots are No. 1 seeds in the East after winning the South Wake Athletic 4A title. They host Pinecrest on Friday.

A playoff goal: The Patriots could face perennial power Wake Forest in the second round, and beating the Cougars could launch Apex Friendship into another big season in the fall. Of course, as top seed, reaching the state finals is within sight.

Green Hope (4-1)

Background: The Falcons finished third in the Triangle 4A and earned a wild-card berth in the West Region. They travel to Hough on Friday.

A playoff goal: On Friday, Green Hope faces the team that beat defending 4AA state champion Vance last week. Should the Falcons knock off Hough, they could face Vance next week. Any and all victories in a tough bracket are big deals.

Holly Springs (4-3)

Background: The Golden Hawks finished third in the South Wake Athletic 4A, earning a wild-card berth and the No. 7 seed. They visit Rolesville on Friday.

A playoff goal: Holly Springs will be a sizeable underdog against Rolesville, so a first-round victory would be a huge accomplishment.

Millbrook (5-2)

Background: The Wildcats finished second in the CAP 7 and are seeded fourth. They host Wake Forest in the first round.

A playoff goal: Beating the perennial giant, Wake Forest, would be a huge deal. That could be a boost into the fall for a team with most key players returning next season.

Panther Creek (7-0)

Background: The Catamounts captured the Triangle 4A championship and are seeded third in the West. They host Olympic on Friday.

A playoff goal: The Catamounts will be favored Friday, but they could face Charlotte power Myers Park in the second round. Regardless, their explosive offense is enough to carry them at least to the West finals.

Rolesville (6-0)

Background: The Rams are second-seeded after a championship season in the Northern 4A. they host Holly Springs on Friday.

A playoff goal: This is the school’s best season, and a run to the East finals or the state finals is within reach. Rolesville might face rival Wake Forest in the third round, and beating the Cougars twice in one season would be huge for bragging rights.

Wake Forest (5-1)

Background: The Cougars finished second in the Northern 4A and are seeded fifth. They visit Millbrook in the first round.

A playoff goal: Wake Forest has been in the playoffs 21 seasons, and the Cougars have been improving steadily this spring. A third-round meeting with rival Rolesville, which trounced the Cougars this season, would be a good target for the team.

Class 4A

Cardinal Gibbons (6-0)

Background: The Crusaders, champions of the CAP 7, are top-seeded in the East and host Pine Forest on Friday.

A playoff goal: The state finals. Cardinal Gibbons got there in 2019 and has the offense and defense to get there again. The road will be rocky, though, with Richmond Senior and Scotland County possible waiting along the way.

Hillside (5-1)

Background: The Hornets were second in the Triangle 4A. They are seeded fifth in the West and visit South Caldwell in the first round.

A playoff goal: A first-round victory is well within Hillside’s reach, as South Caldwell finished third in its conference. With a few breaks, the Hornets could get to the West finals.

Middle Creek (6-1)

Background: The Mustangs finished second in the South Wake Athletic 4A, got the No. 5 seed, and visit Richmond Senior on Friday.

A playoff goal: Winning a football game at Richmond Senior is a huge deal. But with the Raiders rusty from a three-week COVID-related break, it’s attainable. Cardinal Gibbons might await in Week 2.

Class 3AA

Chapel Hill (5-1)

Background: The Tigers were part of a three-way tie for the Big 8 3A championship and are the No. 6 seed. They visit West Brunswick on Friday.

A playoff goal: This is the first playoff appearance for Chapel Hill since 2015. Many of the Tigers’ key players will be returning in the fall, so a victory Friday would be a big boost into the autumn season.

Clayton (6-1)

Background: The Comets had a perfect season, save for a 34-27 loss to Cleveland. They finished second in the Greater Neuse 3A, got the No. 7 seed, and play Friday at Southeast Guilford.

A playoff goal: Clayton would love to win a pair of games and get a rematch with Cleveland in the East finals. But the Comets have a difficult opening-round playoff test.

Cleveland (7-0)

Background: After a perfect season that included a 5-0 run through the Greater Neuse 3A, the Rams are the No. 1 seed in the East. They host Southern Durham on Friday.

A playoff goal: A state championship. Cleveland’s explosive offense is enough to run through the West region. A Cleveland-Weddington state final sounds interesting.

Southern Durham (5-1)

Background: The Spartans were part of a three-way tie for the Big 8 3A title and drew the wild-card berth and No. 8 seed. They open Friday at Cleveland.

A playoff goal: The 3AA bracket – East and West – is loaded. So let’s start with the goal of knocking off Cleveland, and see where it goes from there.

Class 1AA

Princeton (7-0)

Background: The Bulldogs steamrolled to a perfect season but were only seeded fifth in the East. They open in Edenton at John A. Holmes.

A playoff goal: Coach Travis Gaster’s team has dominated its competition this season, and the Bulldogs look like a team that could go to the state finals.

Friday prep football preview, schedule

(News & Observer’s Sweet 16 rankings included)

No. 12 Chapel Hill (5-1) at West Brunswick (5-1), 3AA playoffs, 6:30 p.m. – (coverage on Facebook, at https://www/facebook.com/ATMCconnect). RB Monzelle Campbell is the main weapon in West Brunswick’s attack. Chapel Hill’s young defense will have to play one of its best games of the season.

No. 7 Clayton (6-1) at Southeast Guilford (6-1), 3AA playoffs, 7 p.m. – (no coverage information announced). Senior RB Jalen Fairley (1,049 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns) makes Southeast Guilford a dangerous first-round foe for the Comets. Junior LB Mason Rambo leads the Clayton defense.

No. 16 Green Hope (4-1) at Hough (7-0), 4AA playoffs, 7 p.m. – (NFHS coverage). The Falcons travel to the north Charlotte suburbs in a West Region game, facing the team that knocked off defending state champion Vance last week. Green Hope QB Andrew Wegerski is playing well, having thrown for three touchdowns last week.

No. 8 Hillside (5-1) at South Caldwell (3-2), 4A playoffs, 7 p.m. – (NFHS coverage). Hornets’ QB Aden Beatty has thrown for 10 touchdowns and 970 yards this season. South Caldwell finished third in the Northwestern 3A-4A Conference but got a playoff berth as the top 4A team.

Holly Springs (4-3) at No. 1 Rolesville (7-0), 4AA playoffs, 6:30 p.m. – (NFHS coverage). It’s a tough assignment for Holly Springs, which has lost three of its last four games. Rolesville has three players – a freshman and two juniors – averaging 65 or more rushing yards per game.

No. 11 Middle Creek (6-1) at Richmond Senior (3-0), 4A playoffs, 7:30 p.m. – (NFHS coverage; radio on WAYN, https://www.wayn900.com). What do we make of the host Raiders? They are loaded with talent but haven’t played in three weeks due to COVID-19 issues. The toughest of their three games was an overtime victory over Pinecrest.

Olympic (6-1) at No. 5 Panther Creek (6-1), 4AA playoffs, 6:30 p.m. – (NFHS coverage). The Trojans, from southwest Charlotte, bring a physical ground-oriented attack and like to control the ball for large chunks of time. Panther Creek, in contrast, prefers the pass, with sophomore QB Amari Odom (1,590 passing yards, 20 touchdowns) leading the way.

Pine Forest (4-2) at No. 2 Cardinal Gibbons (6-0), 4A playoffs, 7 p.m. – (NFHS coverage). Senior RB Xavier Byrnes is the leader of the visiting Trojans’ ground-oriented offense. Pine Forest survived three narrow victories this season. The Crusaders seem to be reaching a peak as they enter postseason play.

Pinecrest (5-2) at No. 4 Apex Friendship (7-0), 4AA playoffs, 6:30 p.m. – (NFHS coverage; radio on http://mooresportsradio.com). It’s a battle of the Patriots. The visiting Patriots feature a tenacious defense that held powerful Scotland County to 13 points. That unit will be tested by the host Patriots and QB Sam Lersch, who has thrown for 17 touchdowns against just four interceptions.

No. 9 Princeton (7-0) at John A. Holmes (5-0), 1AA playoffs, 7 p.m. – (no broadcast information announced). Holmes is averaging 255 rushing yards a game, but Princeton is averaging 365 – 159 of those from RB Jaydon Brooks. These are two teams with explosive running attacks and strong defenses.

No. 13 Southern Durham (5-1) at No. 3 Cleveland (7-0), 3AA playoffs, 7 p.m. – (NFHS, and radio on WKJO, https://www.countryss.com). Two of the area’s top quarterbacks meet. Southern Durham’s Omari Smith has thrown for nearly 1,900 yards and 18 touchdowns. Cleveland’s Skyler Locklear, who also has a strong ground game in support, has passed for more than 1,300 yards.

No. 6 Wake Forest (5-1) at No. 14 Millbrook (5-2), 4AA playoffs, 6:30 p.m. – (TV on My RDC channel 28 and on NFHS). WR Wesley Grimes (638 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns) and the high-scoring Millbrook offense test a Wake Forest defense that has been off-and-on this season.

Class 4AA

Friday’s first round

West

Green Hope (4-1) at Hough (7-0), 7

Vance (6-1) at Ardrey Kell (6-1), 7

Olympic (6-1) at Panther Creek (7-0), 6:30

Northwest Guilford (6-1) at Myers Park (7-0), 7:30

East

Pinecrest (5-2) at Apex Friendship (7-0), 6:30

Wake Forest (5-1) at Millbrook (5-2), 6:30

Leesville Road at Hoggard, canceled (Hoggard wins by forfeit)

Holly Springs (4-3) at Rolesville (6-0), 6:30

Class 4A

Friday’s first round

West

East Forsyth (3-3) at Grimsley (6-0), 7

Hillside (5-1) at South Caldwell (3-2), 7

Butler (6-1) at Glenn (5-1), 7

Hickory Ridge (5-2) at Providence (6-1), 7

East

Pine Forest (4-2) at Cardinal Gibbons (6-0), 7

Middle Creek (6-1) at Richmond Senior (3-0), 7:30

Scotland County (4-1) at New Bern (5-1), 7

Jack Britt (4-1) at South View (6-1), 6:30

Class 3AA

Friday’s first round

West

Dudley (6-1) at Watauga (5-1), 7

T.C. Roberson (6-1) at A.L. Brown (6-1), 7:30

Asheville (5-2) at Weddington (7-0), 7

Alexander Central (5-2) at Mount Tabor (7-0), 7

East

Southern Durham (5-1) at Cleveland (7-0), 7

Lee County (7-0) at J.H. Rose (6-0), 7

Chapel Hill (5-1) at West Brunswick (5-1), 6:30

Clayton (6-1) at Southeast Guilford (6-1), 7

Class 3A

Friday’s first round

West

West Rowan (4-2) at A.C. Reynolds (6-1), 7

Crest (6-1) at Charlotte Catholic (5-1), 7

Jay M. Robinson (5-2) at Kings Mountain (7-0), 7

Monroe (5-2) at Statesville (5-1), 7

East

Eastern Alamance (5-1) at Rocky Mount (6-1), 7

Western Alamance (7-0) at Terry Sanford (6-1), 6:30

Southern Guilford (5-2) at Havelock (7-0), 7

West Carteret (5-2) at Northwood (5-2), 6:30

Class 2AA

Friday’s first round

West

Pisgah (6-1) at North Davidson (6-1), 7:30

Oak Grove (5-2) at Ashe County (7-0), 7

Burns (5-2) at Hibriten (7-0), 7:30

Salisbury (5-2) at Maiden (7-0), 7

East

South Granville (5-2) at Washington (5-1), 6:30

McMichael (2-5) at Croatan (6-1), 6:30

Roanoke Rapids (5-1) at SouthWest Edgecombe (5-2), 6:30

Randleman (7-0) at St. Pauls (5-0), 7

Class 2A

Friday’s first round

West

Bunker Hill (6-1) at Hendersonville (5-2), 7:30

Walkertown (5-0) at Shelby (5-2), 7:30

West Lincoln (5-2) at Mount Pleasant (7-0), 7

Forbush (6-0) at Mountain Heritage (4-1), 7:30

East

Southwest Onslow (4-1) at Reidsville (6-0), 7

Red Springs (4-1) at Wallace-Rose Hill (4-3), 7

Kinston (5-1) at Northeastern (4-0), 7

Eastern Randolph (4-1) at Clinton (7-0), 7

Class 1AA

Friday’s first round

West

Polk County at North Stanly, canceled (Polk County wins by forfeit)

Community School of Davidson (5-2) at North Rowan (4-1), 7

Mount Airy (4-2) at Pine Lake Prep (7-0), 6:30

North Moore (4-1) at East Surry (6-1), 7

East

Manteo (2-4) at Tarboro (5-0), 7

Princeton (7-0) at John A. Holmes (5-0), 7

Hobbton (2-5) at East Carteret (5-2), 7

Lakewood (2-5) at Louisburg (4-2), 7

Class 1A

Friday’s first round

West

Andrews (4-2) at Elkin (5-1), 7

Thomas Jefferson Academy (6-0) at Murphy (6-1), 7:30

Christ the King (4-3) at Mitchell County (6-0), 7:30

Winston-Salem Prep (5-2) at Robbinsville (7-0), 7

East

Pamlico County (4-2) at West Columbus (2-3), 7

Pinetown Northside (5-2) at Rosewood (6-1), 7

Perquimans (4-1) at Bear Grass Charter (3-1), 7

North Duplin (3-4) at Northampton County (1-3), 7