Five questions about area teams as they enter the N.C. High School Athletic Association football playoffs.
Q. How will Garner handle adversity?
Garner, the reigning 4AA Eastern champion, has been hard pressed in the second half of only one game this season. Middle Creek led the Trojans 21-20 entering the fourth quarter before the Mustangs were overwhelmed by 26 straight Garner points in the 46-29 loss.
The 4AA East, where Garner is the top seed, is loaded. The top four teams in The N&O rankings are in the bracket. Wake Forest-Rolesville or Wakefield could present a strong challenge in the second round if the Trojans handle Athens Drive in the opening round.
A possible third-round showdown with Leesville Road could pose the strongest challenge of the season.
From the second round on, the Trojans are expected to need a full four quarters of strong play. Garner was ranked No. 1 in the preseason and blasted through its regular-season schedule with an explosive, powerful offense and a physical defense. The Trojans haven’t had to dig deep in a while.
Q. How far can passing carry Wakefield?
Wakefield’s Connor Mitch is one of the nation’s best high school quarterbacks and when the Wolverines’ offense is clicking, it looks almost unstoppable. Mitch has 3,683 passing yards and 53 touchdown passes.
But the fast-flying offense sometimes puts pressure on the defense, which is allowing 24.5 points a game. A year ago, the offense didn’t click and the defense couldn’t save the Wolverines from a 27-21 upset loss to Wilmington Laney in the first round.
The bracket looks tough. After an opening game against Wake Forest-Rolesville – which Wakefield beat 33-19 on Oct. 5 – the Wolverines could face undefeated Garner. Next up would be a possible rematch in the third round against Leesville Road, which defeated Wakefield, 52-24, on Sept. 28.
Q. Who will win a Cleveland vs. Erwin Triton rematch?
Triton won the Eastern Carolina 3A regular-season championship by defeating Cleveland 43-40 in one of the best games of the season. Cleveland and Triton will meet again if Cleveland can win at West Brunswick and Triton can handle Greenville Conley in first-round games.
Cleveland had most of the statistical edges in the first game, but the Rams were fortunate to stay close after a series of turnovers.
A repeat matchup would be huge, but undefeated Cardinal Gibbons might be waiting for the winner. A year ago, Gibbons eliminated Triton from the playoffs, 25-15, but the Crusaders may have to get past Wilson Hunt first. Hunt ousted Gibbons in 2011, 31-17.
Q. Can Richmond bounce back?
Richmond County, which is playing in the Mideast bracket this year, was expected to challenge for the state 4A title, but lost 21-14 loss to Scotland County on Friday night.
Richmond is the top seed in the bracket, but needs to rebound quickly.
Last year, Richmond lost to Scotland in the final regular-season game and was handed a 28-14 upset loss by Northwest Guilford in the first round of the playoffs.
Richmond has been considered a state contender all season and appears to be the biggest challenge in the bracket to Middle Creek, but how will the Raiders respond to their first loss?
Q. Does Corinth-Holders have an encore?
Corinth-Holders is one of the top “feel good” stories of the year. The 3-year-old school had never come close to winning a high school varsity football game until it defeated Northwest Halifax 55-14 on Sept. 21. It had never won a home game until last week when it defeated North Johnston 48-14.
But the Pirates have won five of their past six and are heading to Reidsville for the school’s first football playoff game.