The Big Eight 3A is living up to Southern Durham coach Darius Robinson’s preseason prediction that the conference was better than most 4A leagues.
“I think team for team the Big Eight is better top to bottom than the PAC-6,” Robinson said before a 12-9 win Aug. 29 at PAC-6 member Durham Hillside, which started the season in The Associated Press rankings and hasn’t lost a conference game in five years.
Robinson’s claim looks true given the PAC-6 4A’s tailspin this season. The Big Eight 3A was 9-1 against PAC-6 teams this season after Southern Durham’s 28-0 victory over Northern Durham.
PAC-6 4A teams are a combined 2-28.
Heading into this week’s kickoff of conference games, the Big Eight 3A’s teams have the best combined record (24-8) of any conference in the greater Triangle area. Its top four teams – Southern Durham (4-0), Orange (4-0), Northwood (4-0) and Chapel Hill (4-0) – are unbeaten. Cardinal Gibbons is 3-1, its loss coming at 4A Green Hope, 24-23 in Week 1.
“How do you improve on that? That’s some pretty strong stuff against some stiff competition,” said Orange coach Pat Moser, whose two losses last year were both at Southern Durham.
Even usually hapless Northern Vance has improved. The Vikings defeated archrival Southern Vance 28-12 last week to snap the state’s longest losing streak at 24.
“If there’s a better 3A conference in this state, I’d like to see it,” Northwood coach Bill Hall said.
Like its collegiate namesake, the Southeastern 4A still can stake a claim to being the East’s toughest conference. Its 25-9 combined record coming into this week included unranked Richmond County’s 55-54 overtime upset win Saturday against No. 1 Matthews Butler. Pinecrest was 5-0 and Scotland 4-1 after Friday’s wins.
But Southern Durham won 34-28 at Scotland County on Sept. 11, the Scots’ first loss at Pate Stadium in more than two years.
Other Triangle conferences have good teams if not the balance of the Big Eight 3A. The Southwest Wake 4A has a combined 20-14 record against nonconference opponents, led by No. 8 Middle Creek at 4-0 and Green Hope at 4-1. The Cap-8 4A is 18-14, including No. 10 Wake Forest’s 4-0 record, and the Greater Neuse River 4A is 16-16. Cleveland is 4-1, but the other Two Rivers 3A teams are a combined 7-18.
Like their Southeastern 4A counterparts, most Big Eight 3A coaches think their toughest games are against each other.
Northwood finished fourth in the Big Eight 3A last year, but only after losing a 56-54 shootout at Southern Durham. Orange was a top-10 team last year, but it needed a Hail Mary pass as time expired to escape fifth-place Chapel Hill with a 6-0 win. Southern Durham, the eventual state champion, knocked Chapel Hill, Cardinal Gibbons and Orange out of the playoffs.
“It’s a dogfight every week in this conference,” Hall said. “We tell our players all the time: ‘You better wear your work clothes every Friday night in this conference.’ ”
Still, Robinson considered the win at Scotland, then ranked No. 3 by The Associated Press among North Carolina’s 4A teams, to be a watershed for his team in his first year as a head coach. He ranked it close to the Spartans’ state championship win last year over Boiling Springs Crest.
“It was a huge win for our program,” Robinson said. “We’ve always had it as a goal to be at the level of a program like Scotland, and now we’ve overcome that obstacle.”
Big Eight 3A play will begin this week with Cardinal Gibbons at Cedar Ridge, Chapel Hill at Webb, Northwood at Orange and Northern Vance at Southern Durham.