It’s all come down to this.
Saturday’s N.C. High School Athletic Association football championships will take place across the state’s four ACC venues, and it’s largely without surprise which teams made it to the final game.
MaxPreps.com’s end-of-season computer rankings took some deserved heat for the teams it left out of the playoffs (the NCHSAA has since reduced the influence of MaxPreps rankings in a new format), but it did nail which teams were the best-suited to reach the championship game.
Of the 16 teams to reach the championships, 14 entered the playoffs ranked third, second or first in their respective bracket. The exception is the 3AA class – which figured to be a free-for-all anyway – where it’s No. 5 New Hanover versus No. 10 A.C. Reynolds.
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And wouldn’t it be something if some of these games had a flurry or two?
The NCHSAA is monitoring the changing forecast and has already pushed back the kick times of the 4AA and 4A championships.
Snow aside, here’s what you need to know as we head into the eight title games (two per class, subdivided based on enrollment):
HOW YOU CAN WATCH
1. For the first time, you can watch a championship football game on a local over-the-air TV channel thanks to the NCHSAA’s new partnership with Sinclair Broadcasting. In the Raleigh-Durham-Fayetteville market, the 4AA game will be on WLFL (Ch. 22) at 3 p.m., followed by the 2A title at 7 p.m. The other local station is WRDC (Ch. 28) which will broadcast 1A at noon, 1AA at 4 p.m. and 3AA at 7 p.m. You can also stream the games at myrdctv.com and raleighcw.com.
2. Tickets are $10, or you can purchase them in advance online at nchsaa.org for $9. Parking at all venues is $10.
3. This is the first year Duke has hosted a championship game since 2006. The insertion of Wallace-Wade Stadium into the championship lineup allows for each venue to have two games each and no classification gets split between two sites.
4AA: WAKE FOREST VS. MALLARD CREEK
4. It should be no surprise that Mallard Creek (14-0) and Wake Forest (14-0) are meeting for the 4AA title. Since 2009, only six different schools have played in the 4AA title: Wake Forest has now been there five times, Mallard Creek four times, Butler three, Page three, Jack Britt twice and Garner once.
5. Wake Forest and Mallard Creek have had quite a history between them, playing for the 2013 and 2014 state titles. Mallard Creek won both. They’ve also had a star-studded list of graduates in this decade. Mallard Creek produced former UNC quarterback Marquise Williams, N.C. State star athlete Jaylen Samuels and NFL first-round pick D.J. Humphries – but only Samuels ever played Wake Forest for a state title. Wake Forest went to two titles with Heisman finalist Bryce Love and projected 2019 first-round pick Dexter Lawrence, but the school didn’t win it all until after both had graduated.
6. Should Wake Forest win the title on Saturday, it would be the first time a Wake County school has won back-to-back state football championships since the NCHSAA’s first three titles went to now-defunct Raleigh High in 1913, 1914 and 1915. The running clock was not in effect when Raleigh defeated Asheville 117-0 for the 1914 title.
7. Wake Forest brings back last year’s 4AA title game offensive MVP (running back Devon Lawrence) and defensive MVP (linebacker Seth Williams) as well as every player who scored in the 29-0 shutout of Page with exception of its kicker.
8. This will be the second stadium the Cougars have played in this season that used to be named Groves Stadium. Wake Forest High plays in Trentini Stadium, which was renamed after Wake Forest University left town for Winston-Salem. Wake Forest University renamed its Groves Stadium starting in the 2008 season.
4A: SCOTLAND VS. HARDING
9. The last time Harding (13-1) was in the state title, it was 1987 and the game went down in Garner lore as the Trojans defeated Harding in Charlotte’s Memorial Stadium in front of 12,000 fans. The Charlotte school was coached by Tom Knotts, whose team was thwarted by superstar running back Anthony Barbour. Knotts is still coaching (he just won his 10th state championship last week in South Carolina) and Barbour is, too (his Jordan team lost in the first round this season). Harding has the longest title drought of any of Saturday’s 16 teams with a prior championship, last winning it all in 1953.
10. Scotland (12-1) coach Richard Bailey has been a runner-up four times, three at Jack Britt and once with the Scots. It’ll be hard to top the drama that Scotland had in its East regional final win over Hoggard: The Scots were up 32-7 with 11 minutes, 30 seconds left in the game. Hoggard tied it at 32-all thanks in part to back-to-back onside kicks, and it was 39-all going into overtime. Hoggard scored first, but Scotland answered and went for the two-point conversion to win it 47-46.
11. This game could’ve been between the top senior and top junior recruits in the state, but Scotland senior Zamir White tore his ACL in the third round. Harding is led by 6-3, 222-pound junior Quavaris Crouch.
3AA: NEW HANOVER VS. A.C. REYNOLDS
12. Veteran New Hanover (14-1) coach Earl Smith gets his first shot at a state title. The longtime Wake County coach, who coached 1983-2000 at Millbrook and 2004-08 at Wake Forest, has the Wildcats in their first state championship since 1983. It’s also Smith’s first. Smith, who has a 72 percent win percentage over his career, also coached Wake Forest to the 2008 East regional final.
13. The last time A.C. Reynolds (14-1), located in Asheville, won the championship, it stopped Harnett Central 14-13 in the 2009 title and denied the Trojans from becoming the first team to bring back an official NCHSAA state championship back to Harnett County in any sport. Reynolds has a storied football history, but the team’s unofficial website – gobiggreen.net – is a treasure trove of the entire state’s football history with conference standings and year-by-year records dating back decades. It even has a section for South Carolina high school football.
3A: HAVELOCK VS. CHARLOTTE CATHOLIC
14. Charlotte Catholic (15-0) is making its ninth appearance in the football state championship, more than any other team from Charlotte. The Cougars have four titles are the only one of the NCHSAA’s three parochial schools to ever play in the football title game.
15. Havelock (14-1) has an offense that hasn’t slowed down for anyone. The Rams are averaging 51.9 points per game, and their lowest output of the season came in a 26-21 loss to 2A finalist Wallace-Rose Hill. The next-lowest? A 41-14 win last week at Western Alamance in the final four round.
2AA: EAST DUPLIN VS. HIBRITEN
16. Duplin County has three schools in this year’s state championships. East Duplin (15-0) was the only team to beat county foe Wallace-Rose Hill, the 2A East champ, and neither team played 1A East champ North Duplin. The fourth school, James Kenan, was down this year but won the 2013 title. Expect some new road signs by next fall, to tout these accomplishments. East Duplin is making its first appearance in an NCHSAA title game. The Panthers are coached by Battle Holley, son of the NCHSAA’s all-time leader in wins, the late Jack Holley.
17. Hibriten (15-0), located in Lenoir, stopped four-time defending state champion Shelby last week. Also nicknamed the Panthers, Hibriten has held opponents to single digits 13 times this season.
2A: WALLACE-ROSE HILL VS. REIDSVILLE
18. Defending 2AA champ Reidsville (15-0) calls itself the “Football Capital of N.C.” and you don’t get that nickname without some serious hardware. The Rams have played in 21 state title games dating back to 1930 and have six titles since 1972. Only Reidsville has a longer active winning streak (31 games) than Wake Forest (30).
19. This is the only game between two defending state champions. Wallace-Rose Hill (13-1) is the defending 1AA champ, but moved up this year in realignment. The Bulldogs own a victory over 3A finalist Havelock and their only loss is to 2AA finalist East Duplin.
1AA: TARBORO VS. MOUNT AIRY
20. Tarboro (14-0) has allowed just 98 yards and 4.2 points per game this season. Its closest win was a 28-0 victory over 2A SouthWest Edgecombe.
21. Mount Airy (14-0) features one of the top athletes in the state in quarterback Ian Holder. He has completed better than 74 percent of his passes, throwing for 1,882 yards and 23 touchdowns, while running for 1,056 yards (9.7 per carry) and 13 touchdowns.
22. Tarboro might be the only team in this year’s championship with its own offense. The Vikings don’t run the Wing-T, they run the “Tarboro-T.” It’s the same offense NFL running backs Shaun Draughn and Todd Gurley ran when they came through.
1A: NORTH DUPLIN VS. CHEROKEE
23. North Duplin (14-0) has one of the longest title droughts of any of the eight finalists, last winning it all in 1972. The Rebels have two one-point victories on their schedule and three others by seven points or less.
24. Cherokee (13-1) is the only Bureau of Indian Education grant school in the NCHSAA and one of two of this year’s eight finalists that has never won a state title in football. The Braves haven’t played in the state championship game since 1978.
25. Cherokee has the longest trip of any NCHSAA finalist, almost five hours one-way. The NCHSAA does provide stipends for teams with excessive travel to NCHSAA events, including hotel accommodations. The Braves will likely get into town Friday evening for Saturday’s noon kickoff.
4A and 4AA at BB&T Field, Winston-Salem
4AA: Wake Forest vs. Mallard Creek, 3 p.m
4A: Scotland vs. Harding, 7 p.m.
3A and 3AA at Duke
3A: Havelock vs. Charlotte Catholic, 3 p.m.
3AA: New Hanover vs. A.C. Reynolds, 7 p.m.
2A and 2AA at UNC-Chapel Hill
2AA: East Duplin vs. Hibriten, 3 p.m.
2A: Wallace-Rose Hill vs. Reidsville, 7 p.m.
1A and 1AA at Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh
1A: North Duplin vs. Cherokee, noon
1AA: Tarboro vs. Mount Airy, 4 p.m.
Channels 22 and 28 in the Triangle will air Saturday’s games as will channels 12 and 14 in the Eastern N.C. TV market. Games will also be streamed live on the stations’ websites.
Noon – 1A – North Duplin vs. Cherokee – WCTI/ABC (12.1)
3 p.m. – 3A – Havelock vs. Charlotte Catholic – WCTI/ABC (12.1)
4 p.m. – 1AA – Tarboro vs. Mount Airy – WYDO/Fox (14.1)
Noon – 1A – North Duplin vs. Cherokee – WRDC/MY TV (28.1)
3 p.m. – 4AA – Wake Forest vs. Mallard Creek – WLFL/The CW (22.1)
4 p.m. – 1AA – Tarboro vs. Mt. Airy – WRDC/MY TV (28.1)
7 p.m. – 2A – Wallace-Rose Hill vs. Reidsville – WLFL/The CW (22.1)
7 p.m. – 3AA – New Hanover vs. A.C. Reynolds – WRDC/MY TV (28.1)