The top three finishers in each area N.C. High School Athletic Association conference qualify for the playoffs, so the games involving teams in the third, fourth and fifth spots have added meaning this year.
After selecting the top three finishers from each league, the NCHSAA will fill the bracket based on teams’ overall records, which also adds importance to Friday night’s games.
The two biggest games of the week, though, are No. 7 Wakefield at No. 8 Leesville Road in a game to determine the Cap Eight 4A Conference title and No. 2 Orange at No. 5 Southern Durham in a game to decide the Big Eight 3A Conference championship.
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East Wake at No. 1 Knightdale, 7: East Wake coach John Poulnot said in the preseason that this game might decide the league championship. It won’t because Knightdale (8-1, 5-0) already has clinched the title, but East Wake has a lot at stake. With a win, the Warriors (4-6, 3-2) could take the Greater Neuse’s No. 2 seed into the playoffs. With a loss, they won’t make the postseason.
No. 2 Orange at No. 5 Southern Durham, 7 p.m.This game will decide the championship of the Big Eight 3A Conference. The unstoppable Spartans offense (50 points per game) will run headlong into the Panthers’ immovable defense (8.3 points per game). Well, not exactly unmovable. Orange (10-0, 6-0) gave up 28 points in the first half last week against Cardinal Gibbons. Southern Durham (8-2, 6-0) has scored 45 or more points in each of its last six games.
Fuquay-Varina at No. 3 Middle Creek, 7:30
Middle Creek (8-2, 6-0) has clinched the Southwest Wake 4A Conference’s No. 1 seed into the playoffs, but is seeking a high overall seed in the 4AA bracket. Fuquay-Varina (6-4, 3-3) also needs a win to improve its playoff seeding.
Roxboro Person at No. 4 Hillside, 7
Hillside (7-2, 4-0) wants to avoid a letdown after locking up a share of its fourth straight PAC-6 championship last week. Person (3-6, 1-2) is out of the playoff picture.
Green Hope at No. 6 Panther Creek, 7:30
Panther Creek (8-2, 5-1) has second place in the Southwest Wake 4A. Green Hope (5-5, 2-4) broke a three-game losing streak last week and is in the playoffs with a win. A loss makes their fate much fuzzier.
No. 7 Wakefield at No. 8 Leesville Road, 7:30
The Cap Eight 4A Conference championship is at stake along with all sorts of playoff perks, including more home playoff games. Wakefield (9-1, 5-1) is led by quarterback Evan Brabrand (2,427 yards and 26 touchdowns passing) and a strong defense. Leesville Road (8-2, 5-1) dropped two games in the middle of the season, but has been impressive in recent weeks.
Southern Lee at No. 9 Lee County, 7:30
Lee County (8-2, 4-1) is the No. 2 seed from the Cape Fear Valley 3A behind Fayetteville Byrd. Brick City Bowl rival Southern Lee is 2-3 in the league and 3-7 overall.
No. 10 Millbrook at Sanderson, 7
Millbrook (7-3, 4-2) and Sanderson (6-4, 4-2) are playing for playoff seeding. Millbrook could finish from second to fifth in the Cap Eight 4A. Sanderson could finish as high as third.
No. 11 Northwood at No. 14 Cardinal Gibbons, 7
In any other conference, these two teams might be playing for the championship Friday. As it is, one will be in fourth place in the Big Eight. Like the Orange-Southern matchup, this pits two of the state’s top QBs against each other – Northwood’s Ti Pinnix and Shawn Stankavage of Gibbons. Go to the concession stand and you’ll miss a touchdown.
No. 12 Cleveland at Western Harnett, 7:30
Western Harnett (4-5, 2-2) carried a chance to share the Two Rivers 3A Conference championship before its Monday night loss at Triton. The Eagles have been the surprise of the Two Rivers 3A this season – beating South Johnston and nearly upsetting Corinth Holders – so the Rams (7-3, 4-0) could have a challenge.
No. 13 Wake Forest at Enloe, 7
Wake Forest (7-3, 3-3) is expected to handle Enloe (0-10, 0-6) and head to the playoffs.
No. 15 Triton at Corinth Holders, 7:30
Corinth Holders (7-3, 2-2) or Triton (8-2, 3-1) could each claim second place in the Two Rivers 3A with a win.
Broughton at Heritage, 7
Heritage (5-5, 2-4) still has playoff hopes – but only with a win – and Broughton (1-9, 1-5) wants to build on last week’s win over Enloe.
Cary at Athens Drive, 7:30
Cary (3-7, 1-5) faces neighboring Athens Drive (4-6, 2-4). The Jaguars will need to do some finger-crossing as they could win and still not make the playoffs. In three of the past four meetings, the game was decided by six points or less.
Cedar Ridge at Chapel Hill, 7
The Tigers (3-7, 2-4) have played extremely well for three weeks in a row in losses. Cedar Ridge (1-8, 1-4) has struggled.
East Chapel Hill at Jordan, 7
The Falcons (1-9, 0-4) continue to struggle on defense, giving 43 points a game to opponents. East Chapel Hill (2-8, 1-3) has brought up its junior varsity to the varsity.
Holly Springs at Apex, 7:30
Holly Springs (5-5, 4-2) has wrapped up the third spot from the Southwest Wake 4A. Apex is 2-8 and 1-5.
Louisburg at Weldon, 7:30
Louisburg (6-3, 4-0) is the Tar-Roanoke 1A Conference top seed and can win the regular-season title with a win. Weldon is 4-6 and 2-2.
Northern Durham at Durham Riverside, 7
This game between PAC-6 neighbors (just about 4 miles apart) will decide second place in the PAC-6. Northern Durham (3-7, 3-1) and Durham Riverside (7-3, 3-1) match up well, and their stats against PAC-6 opponents are remarkably close. The Pirates (40 ppg) score more than Northern (30 ppg), while the Knights’ defense (16 ppg) holds opponents to fewer points than Riverside (23 ppg).
Reidsville at Carrboro, 7
Carrboro (4-6, 1-3) is in a tie for fourth place in the Mid-State 2A Conference and needs a win to stay in the playoff picture. Reidsville (8-2, 4-0) is the league’s top seed going into the playoffs.
Rosewood at Princeton, 7:30
Princeton (7-2, 4-3) has second place in the Carolina 1A Conference, but wants a good playoff seed. Rosewood (4-6, 2-3) wants to slow down Princeton’s Johnny Frasier (211.5 rushing yards per game).
South Granville at Roanoke Rapids, 7:30
South Granville (8-2, 3-1) can keep a share of the Northern Carolina 2A Conference lead with a win. Roanoke Rapids (2-7, 0-4) is playing spoiler.
Southeast Raleigh at Clayton, 7
Southeast Raleigh (4-5, 2-3) needs to find its offensive touch after struggling to score (averaging 11.7 points a game in its last three outings). Clayton (7-3, 3-2) still has a shot at the league’s No. 2 playoff spot.
Smithfield-Selma at South Johnston, 7:30
South Johnston (2-8, 1-3) usually finds a way to score points. Smithfield-Selma (0-10, 0-4) is seeking its first win.
Wake Christian at Harrells Christian, 7:30
The NCISAA Division II playoffs begin this week with a rematch as the Bulldogs visit high-scoring Harrells. HCA won the first meeting 54-14, but Wake Christian (6-5) has won three straight. Wake Christian quarterback Beau Barger has rushed for 1,089 yards and thrown for 1,362 this season. The winner meets either High Point Christian (4-6) or Christ School (7-2) in the second round.
Warren County at Bunn, 7:30
Bunn (6-4, 3-1) shares the Northern Carolina 2A lead with South Granville and Southern Vance. Warren County is 5-5 and 1-3 in the league.
West Johnston at Harnett Central, 7
West Johnston (3-6, 1-4) goes in as a big favorite against Harnett Central (1-8, 0-5), which is on a seven-game losing streak and hasn’t scored more than 20 points in a game all season.