The News & Observer's community sports editors weigh in on the high school football playoffs:
Which area team do you think will advance the farthest?
Aaron Moody, Eastern Wake News: I hate to be the guy who picks the No. 1 team, but there’s good reason Southern Durham is in that position. Any team whose undefeated regular season includes a win at Scotland County gets my vote. The Spartans also were tested closer to home and won against Hillside (7-4) and at Orange (10-1).
Elliott Warnock, Chapel Hill News: Southern Durham has been the strongest team from the area’s strongest conference: the Big Eight 3A. The conference put five teams into the playoffs – all of them legit, not a 5-win team among them.
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Few things are more important than experience to a team in the playoffs. Southern went all the way last year in the 3AA and has run the table so far this year.
D. Clay Best, Garner-Cleveland Record: It has to be Southern Durham. The Spartans seem to have it all. Big stars and a team that’s been through it all this year: winning huge games on the road, taking great shots from a host of very good teams in their conference and emerging with a perfect record.
J. Mike Blake, The Cary News: Southern Durham. The Spartans and an area 4AA team will reach the title game, but Southern has the bigger chance to win.
Caryn Grant, North Raleigh News: Southern Durham is ranked No. 1 for a reason. The Spartans have shown an ability to both win big and gut out close ones in a stacked Big Eight 3A conference. They know what it takes to get to – and win – the big game.
Which of your league teams will last the longest?
Best: When you cover Garner, the Trojans are usually the team you end up covering last every season. And I think coach Thurman Leach, superstar Nyheim Hines and the rest of the guys in the plain blue helmets will be practicing football before they have Thanksgiving dinner yet again this year.
However, when I look at a team that I think is built to be around the longest from the Garner/Johnston County area, it’s Princeton. The Bulldogs certainly do not have an easy route to the state 1AA championship game with likely meetings with Wallace-Rose Hill and James Kenan along the way, but top to bottom this team is built about ideally as a small school could be.
How big an effect will Reggie Lucas’ suspension have on the playoffs?
Moody: I doubt a team scoring 43 points per game and allowing 12 will let that ruin an outstanding season.
Warnock: Many teams will handle a major personnel loss well – for one game. They rally together and fight harder, realizing what they’ve lost and what’s at stake. But often, reality hits one game later and the team struggles in ways it didn’t foresee.
Best: Winning football programs are about players who respond to coaching, and not just one coach, but an entire staff of talented and proven assistant coaches. That’s what Wake Forest has and that’s why I think the suspension isn’t a factor early in the playoffs. The deeper the Cougars go, the more I wonder about the impact it will have.
Blake: It’s sad those kids have to be in this position, but the Wake Forest program is so perfectly put in place the ship might just keep sailing on through to the championship.
However, I don’t see a team winning the state title without its coach. When going against any of the loaded teams from Charlotte, you want Reggie Lucas to be on the sidelines.
Grant: Wake Forest football has always had a measured sense of consistency in the way it runs. The suspension of a head coach can undoubtedly be jarring to that rhythm, but something also can be said for the way that history of consistency and training can pay dividends in the wake of such a change. The Cougars didn’t miss a beat in their 42-13 first-round win over Leesville Road last week, but it will be interesting to see how the team does preparing for an unfamiliar opponent, Pinecrest, and this time for an entire week without its head coach.