The Greater Neuse River 4A Conference football season starts rolling Friday with a new order of play and a bye week for every team, thanks to first-year school Rolesville playing only a junior varsity schedule, which reshuffles who plays when and where.
Five new head coaches have injected different leaderships into the league, which has been dominated by Garner over the past decade.
The Trojans, like everybody else, carry a blemished record into conference play thanks to their loss to Cleveland in the second week. But having a back with more than 1,100 yards rushing already behind him in Nyheim Hines – as well as a bevy of other offensive playmakers – means Garner is still considered the team to beat.
With each team’s playoff hopes riding mainly on its finish in the conference race, here is a look at what we know and what will be most important for each team going forward:
Best Win: Aug. 30 at Corinth Holders, 16-14.
The Comets rallied in the closing minutes to win in a raucous road environment against a Pirates team that’s 4-1 as well.
Most Important Game: Oct. 4 at Knightdale.
The Knights are widely believed to be the team who is most likely to challenge Garner for the league championship. Clayton finished second in the conference last season, reeling off wins in its last six conference games. If the Comets want to finish second or higher again, this is a big one.
East Wake (1-3)
Best Win: Aug. 23 vs. South Johnston, 44-18.
Most Important Game: Oct. 18 vs. West Johnston.
East Wake and West Johnston have gotten most of the nods in the “most likely to be the surprise team in the conference” early in the season. Both teams keep getting better, and if the playoffs are in the future for either, a win here would be key.
Best Win: Aug. 23 vs. Middle Creek, 21-16.
It felt like a mid-November clash – big special teams plays, great defensive moves and plenty of big hits. Here, Garner found a way to prevail over the Mustangs once again.
Most Important Game: Oct. 25 at Knightdale.
The Knights get most of their big conference games on their home turf, and the Garner game is one Knightdale has been thinking about a lot during the offseason. Sure, both teams have to get there, but this one has all the makings of an exciting clash.
Harnett Central (1-3)
Best Win: Aug. 30 vs. Western Harnett, 16-3.
Most Important Game: Oct. 4 vs. Southeast Raleigh.
The Trojans have had some success in the past against Southeast in Angier; a similar result here could blow the conference race even more open.
Best Win: Aug. 30 at Millbrook, 14-7.
Most Important Game: Oct. 4 vs. Clayton.
Sure, all eyes are on the meeting with Garner in late October, but the Knights must get by a Clayton team that beat them twice last season – in back-to-back weeks (last of regular season, first of playoffs) – before it dreams of a conference championship.
Knightdale’s defense has shown improvement this season, holding all four of its opponents to three touchdowns or less.
Southeast Raleigh (1-3)
Best Win: Sept. 6 vs. Enloe, 39-0.
Most Important Game: Nov. 8 at Clayton.
The Bulldogs finish up its conference slate against a Comets’ team it used to open every conference season against. Those games were almost always close and figured heavily into the final conference standings. This time around, there will be no wondering about what a win would mean for either team; it’s both teams’ last chance to improve their playoff resume.
West Johnston (2-3)
Best Win: Aug. 30 vs. South Johnston, 24-0.
Most Important Game: Nov. 1 vs. Clayton.
West finally gets to play at home after a four-week break (three road games and a bye) when the Comets come to town the night after Halloween. After trips to Garner, East Wake, Southeast and another road trip the next week, the clash with Clayton is West’s only chance to get a home win in the final six weeks of the season.