High Schools

Stevens: Wake County pretty good at football, but western teams still powerful

tstevens@newsobserver.comDecember 2, 2013 

A few years ago, the idea of Wake County producing state football finalists regularly would have been outlandish.

Basketball. Check.

Cross country. Check.

Volleyball, swimming, track, wrestling, baseball, tennis, soccer. Lots of checks.

But football? From 1971 through 2009, Wake County had two teams – 1987 Garner and 1999 Garner – advance to the big school title game.

David Green, the former Leesville Road football coach who is now at Burlington Williams, glanced at the 4AA bracket this year and mischievously tweeted, “A Wake County team will play for a state title. Must be a mistake, you know they don’t play football there.”

Not only do they play high school football in Wake County now, they are pretty good at it. This will be the third time in four years that a Wake County team has played in the 4AA game.

The county still hasn’t produced a big-school state champion since Garner made its title run in 1987, but the area’s football reputation has changed.

The road to the Eastern 4A championship used to run through Fayetteville, but it doesn’t any more.

Good coaches, more schools

There are a lot of factors. The coaching is good. The players have more opportunities to train throughout the year. Many of the top athletes choose to play football.

But mathematics is a factor, too.

Wake County has almost a fourth of all the NCHSAA 4A schools and many of the Wake schools are among the biggest in the state. Seven of the 10 biggest high schools in North Carolina are in Wake County. Seventeen of the 25 biggest schools in Eastern North Carolina are in Wake County.

This year’s 16-team 4AA East bracket included 11 teams from Wake County. The only exceptions were Mid-South 4A champ Fayetteville Britt, Southeastern runner-up Southern Pines Pinecrest, PAC Six runner-up Durham Riverside plus Wilmington Laney and Hope Mills South View, which were third in the Mid-Eastern 3A/4A and Mid-South, respectively.

Middle Creek, Wakefield and Britt were the only conference regular-season champions in the 4AA East.

The 4A East bracket included league champions Scotland, Durham Hillside, Knightdale, Greenville Conley and Wilmington Hoggard.

I don’t know if the county would have had four semifinalists if all those other conference champions had been in the 4AA field.

The next big step for area teams is to not just get to the finals, but to win. Northern Durham was the last area big school to win a championship. The Knights won in 1992. Hillside won the 4A title in 2010, the same year Matthews Butler beat Wake Forest-Rolesville for the 4AA crown.

The odds don’t look very good for the county to produce its first 4AA champion. Either Middle Creek or Wake Forest will be a big underdog in the 4AA final against either western finalist, Charlotte Mallard Creek or Matthews Butler.

A team from the East has won nine of 11 4A titles since the NCHSAA began sub-dividing the playoffs in 2002.

But since Northern’s 39-6 win over West Charlotte in ’92, the team from the West has won the title among the biggest schools 18 of 19 years. The only breakthrough was New Bern’s 28-17 win over Charlotte Independence in 2007.

Stevens: 919-829-8910

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