Garner, No. 1 in The News & Observer rankings, and Middle Creek, No. 4, are expected to have a lot of questions answered in Friday nights 7 p.m. opener at Garner as the high school football season opens.
New Trojans coach Thurman Leach was a 20-year assistant at Garner and continues the lineage established by program builder Hal Stewart and continued by his successor Nelson Smith. Leach had been the defensive coordinator in recent years and the Trojans have allowed about 16 points per game during the past three years.
But Garners defense has been rebuilt and should be tested by the Mustangs. Middle Creek averaged 37 points in 2012 and moved the ball well on the Trojans a year ago in a 46-29 loss. The Mustangs return East Carolina wide receiver recruit Curtis Burston and coach Mike Castellano is confident junior quarterback Brant Grisel can move the offense.
A rivalry is developing between the schools. Many of the players at the two schools grow up in the same neighborhoods.
Garner, which leads the series 9-1 (a 21-20 Mustangs win in 2009), is the favorite in the Greater Neuse 4A and Middle Creek is the favorite in the Southwest Wake.
No. 2 Leesville Road at Durham Jordan, 7 p.m.
Leesville Road has a lot of new faces this year, but versatile runner/receiver Braxton Berrios is one of the most exciting players in the area.
No. 3 Hillside at New Bern, 7:30 p.m.
Hillside, with 16 returning starters, is led by a half dozen highly-recruited players, including running back Donte Thomas Williams and receiver Trevion Thompson. New Bern returns six defensive starters from a 15-0 state 4A championship team that beat Hillside 40-20.
Panther Creek at No. 5 Wake Forest, 7 p.m.
Wake Forest is led by running back Bryce Love, one of the states fastest players. The Cougars strength under coach Reggie Lucas has been defense. Panther Creek had eight close losses in 2012.
No. 11 Green Hope at No. 6 Cardinal Gibbons, 7:00
Green Hope will be without starting quarterback Chris Tutwiler after an injury in last weeks scrimmage. Gibbons explosive offense is led by quarterback Shawn Stankavage.
No. 15 Holly Springs at No. 7 Heritage, 7 p.m.
Both teams are expected to do well, despite less-than-great 2012 seasons. A quick start would help either teams season considerably.
No. 8 Cleveland at Clayton, 7 p.m.
This is the first meeting between the two nearby schools. Cleveland has gone 12-2 and 11-4 in its first two seasons and is led by running back Isaac Martin. Coach Randy Pinkowski will be sending out his first Comet team.
No. 10 Knightdale at Sanderson, 7 p.m.
Knightdale has improved its record each season for the past three seasons, but faces a Sanderson team that may be re-energized.
No. 13 Carrboro at Durham Riverside, 7:00
Carrboro reached the state 2AA championship game in 2012 and returns Trai Sharp, a big-play runner from the opening kickoff on.
Roxboro Person at No. 14 Orange, 7:30
Orange graduated 13 seniors from a team that went four games deep into the 3A state playoffs. Patrick Pettiford, who rushed for 1,200 yards, and 240-pound fullback Michael Bolden are back.
Athens Drive at Greenville Rose, 7:30
The Jaguars get a look at one of the nations top-ranked players, defensive end Kentavious Street.
Broughton at Cary, 7:30
New Cary coach Kurt Glendenning sends his club against new Broughton coach Billy Lanes club. Cary has a 7-3 advantage in the last 10 years.
Millbrook at Fuquay-Varina, 7:00
Fuquay-Varina coach Jeb Halls debut comes against Millbrook, which is led by Wake Forest quarterback commitment Lemar Harris.
Harnett Central at Apex
Grayson Boyd gets his first varsity start at quarterback for Apex.
South Johnston at East Wake, 7:00
East Wake was 9-3 in 2006, but has struggled in more recent years. South Johnston has posted four straight winning seasons, but is rebuilding.
West Johnston at Smithfield-Selma, 7:30
New West Johnston coach Jimmy Williams stresses defense while Smithfield-Selma is trying to break a 30-game losing streak.
Wake Christian at Chatham Central, 7:30
The Bulldogs make their debut under new coach Stephen Cochran, a former Bulldogs assistant coach.
North Johnston at Louisburg, 7:30
Two former conference foes break into the new season against each other. North Johnston has moved into the Eastern Plains 2A after four years in the Northern Carolina 2A with Louisburg.
East Carteret at Princeton, 7:30
Princeton is coming off of a surprising run to the 1A regional championship game last year, but didn't win a single home game during the season, going 0-6. The Bulldogs get their first chance to change that trend on opening night.
Northern Nash at Corinth Holders, 7:30
Corinth Holders plays its first game as a 3A school against fellow 3A school Northern Nash, which is debuting under the direction of longtime Wilson Hunt coach Randy Raper.
Tim Stevens, J. Mike Blake, D. Clay Best and Elliott Warnock contributed to this story.