Tri-9 4A football in transition phase

Five new coaches will enter the league for 2012 season

mblake@newsobserver.comAugust 15, 2012 

Lee County at Middle Creek Football 10-8-2010

In the first quarter a Lee County defender tries to take down Middle Creek's Quinton Ray (17).


  • Games to watch Aug. 31: Middle Creek at Fuquay-Varina: These rivals didn’t know it at the time, but Middle Creek’s double-overtime 48-47 victory last year essentially gave the Mustangs the conference. Sept. 14: Cary at Fuquay-Varina: If Cary wins, it would snap an eight-game losing streak against the Bengals and provide confidence going into the Middle Creek game the following week. This game could be a factor in whether Fuquay-Varina wins the conference title or is eliminated from realistic consideration. Oct. 12: Panther Creek at Cary: Another late-season showdown with playoff and conference implications. In 2009, Panther Creek earned a playoff spot one seed higher than Cary’s. In 2010, Panther Creek won to secure its first conference championship. Last year, Cary’s win gave it the head-to-head when it tied for third in the Tri-9.

The fourth-most tenured football coach in the Tri-9 Conference is Green Hope’s Kwame Dixon. He’s entering his second year.

The recent coaching overhaul is the first thing that stands out about this year’s league. Five teams changed coaches, with three retirements and two others leaving for other jobs.

Joe Kilby is Apex’s second coach in 20 years, Holly Springs welcomes former Leesville Road assistant Will Orbin, Athens Drive promoted assistant Chris Martin, Middle Creek hired Mike Castellano out of the college coaching ranks, and Panther Creek plucked Middle Creek’s Sean Crocker.

“It’s kind of weird coming into a season not knowing what you’re going to be facing,” said Cary’s Ben Kolstad, entering his 10th season. “They talk like there are some pretty good coaches coming in, so it’ll be interesting.”

And though there’s some idea as to which teams will be on top of this year’s conference – four are ranked in the N&O’s preseason top 20 – there is also an unpredictability in week-to-week game planning.

“We kind of threw away all the old scouting reports from year-to-year,” Fuquay-Varina coach Ryan Habich said. “It’ll definitely be a fun year for us.”

As far as who will win the Tri-9, history favors either Fuquay-Varina or Middle Creek – or both. Last year they shared the conference title, though Middle Creek won the head-to-head battles in the regular season and postseason. The last time neither clinched at least a share of the conference title was 2004.

Middle Creek (10-4) brings back most of its powerful offense, including receiver Quinton Ray, but has youth on defense and a new coach. Fuquay-Varina (10-2) returns just five starters but is confident new playmakers will emerge. The Bengals are asking Garrett Suggs (15 interceptions in last two years) to play both sides of the ball.

Cary, coming off its second straight 9-3 finish, just missed being a co-conference champ in each of the past two seasons. The Imps return five starters on each side. Linebacker Anthony Konieczka leads a defense that has been the conference’s best the past three years.

Panther Creek (8-4) knows Crocker well, as he posted a 5-1 record against the Catamounts in his five years at Middle Creek. The Catamounts are adjusting to more shotgun formations, but have an proven running back in David Mayaka and a strong offensive line led by Mike Sutton.

Athens Drive (5-7) returns more starters than any conference playoff team. The Jaguars have last year’s first team all-conference quarterback (Jason West) and second team all-conference offensive lineman (Zach Willon).

Lee County (4-6) returns quarterback Chase Arrington and offensive lineman Brian Stryffler from a team that won three conference games by a combined nine points.

Apex (1-7-1) and Holly Springs (2-8) lost a lot of seniors. Green Hope (2-9) snapped a 37-game losing streak last year, but Dixon’s team, led by linebacker Terry Whitehead, has two more nagging losing streaks – at home (25) and in the conference (36). They have enough returning starters to make snapping both a reasonable goal.

Blake: 919-460-2606 or

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