Erwin Triton High football coach Ashley Ennis understands that Cleveland has created quite a buzz this year.
Triton (7-0) defeated Cleveland 41-28 in their Eastern Carolina 3A game last year en route to the regular-season league championship. But Cleveland (8-0) is No. 3 in the N&O rankings to Triton’s No. 8 and Cleveland is ranked in The Associated Press state rankings while Triton, despite its perfect record, is not.
“I think our kids understand that Cleveland is a team with nearly its entire lineup back, off a trip to the Eastern (3A) championship, which is a lot farther than we got,” Ennis said.
Cleveland reached the state 3A semifinals in the playoffs and Triton was eliminated in the second round of the 3AA by Cardinal Gibbons, 25-15.
Cleveland visits Triton Friday night at 7:30 p.m.
“Everybody’s been aware of how important it is to get to this game,” Ennis said. “Now we’re here and it’s time to see what we can do.
“We’ve both dealt with adversity, kept our focus through each week. Now one of us has a chance to win and take another step toward getting a high seed in the playoffs. It’ll be a good test for us, playing a playoff-tested team in what should be a great atmosphere.”
Triton and Cleveland each have had one close game. Triton beat Clinton 25-21 in its opener and has won every game since by 13 points or more. Cleveland trailed North Lenoir 16-0 before rallying for a 22-16 win. No other team has finished within 22 points.
The teams’ offenses have been productive with Cleveland averaging 46.5 points and Triton getting 33.3. Cleveland’s Isaac Martin leads the area with 1,652 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns. Triton’s Dedrick Stacker has 940 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Both coaches believe the game may be determined by the defenses.
“Triton flies around the football,” said Cleveland coach Marc Morris. “We’ve got to figure out how to run the ball on them. Getting them blocked up front is going to be a great challenge for us.”
Ennis said Cleveland’s defense, which is allowing 11.5 points, is better than a year ago.
“It is simply much more mature, stronger and experienced,” Ennis said. “They’re very disciplined and read what teams are trying to do very well inside of the box. That front seven is very good. Hopefully, we’ll get in their way.”
Other undefeated teams
Six other area high school teams are undefeated and Garner and Raleigh Word of God may face the biggest challenges on Friday.
Garner (8-0, No. 1) anticipates one of its most challenging Greater Neuse games of the year against a 6-1 Knightdale team that essentially matches the Trojans’ offensive statistics yard for yard.
Word of God (7-0) plays Courtland (Va.) Southampton (7-0), which averages 62.3 points per game. The N.C. Independent School Athletic Association eight-man game will be played at the Wilder’s Grove Community Center.
Word of God has been a juggernaut, averaging 50 points per game. Senior running back Casty St. Louis has 1,417 yards, 23 rushing touchdowns and is getting 17.3 yards per carry. Southampton, which plays in the North Carolina league despite being in Virginia, has scored at least 52 points in every game.
Three weeks ago, Southampton blasted Hobgood Academy 92-63. The Raiders’ average winning margin is 28.7 points despite being tested by Cary Christian 56-41 and Kinston Parrott 52-40.
Word of God beat Cary Christian 38-18 and Kinston Parrott 42-12.
In other games involving undefeated area teams, Leesville Road (7-0, No. 2) plays long-time rival Millbrook (2-6) in a Cap Eight game. Cardinal Gibbons (7-0) is at Northern Vance (1-7) in the Carolina 3A and Carrboro (8-0, No. 10) is at home against Cedar Ridge (1-7).
Staff writer D. Clay Best contributed.