The seeding process used by the N.C. High School Athletic Association football playoffs means that no bracket is ever going to be 100 percent predictable. And so we get surprises every Saturday after the regular season is over.
The bracket needs tiebreakers done by random draw, uses conference standing to give No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds priority but does not use them to rank wild-cards (just overall record). Teams get to drop a nonconference loss if they played 11 games, so a 10-1 team is determined equal to an 11-0 team.
On top of it, East and West are never set in stone and the same goes for the line between a “big schools” bracket (4AA, 3AA, 2AA and 1AA) and the smaller schools (4A, 3A, 2A, 1A).
It’s a lot of work for the sake of a “more fair” bracket. And here are some of the surprises in store this week.
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The 4AA East goes west: In the last five years, Richmond County was either the westernmost team in the 4AA East or the easternmost in the 4AA West. But this year, the line was pulled farther west, and two Greensboro schools – Page and Northwest Guilford – will join Richmond and others in the 4AA East.
Why did this happen? Smaller 4A teams made the playoffs with more frequency that in recent years.
Think of it this way: when Person (smallest 4A in the East) and Cardinal Gibbons (also one of the smallest) made the 4A playoffs for the first time in years (or ever Gibbons was 3A before this year), that bumps the 4A/4AA line up two spots.
A late switch: It looked like the 4AA and 4A East bracket was set, but at the last minute teams were rearranged among the lower seeds. New Bern (4A) and Laney (4AA) had been seeded as 3-seeds, which do not get priority if coming from a split (4A/3A) conference. Among the ramifications: Green Hope at Fuquay-Varina, Leesville Road at Middle Creek and Knightdale at New Hanover.
Big 8 tournament: Sometimes the bracket sets up a conference tournament. This year it’s the Big 8 3A that’s most affected. Southern Durham plays Chapel Hill in the first round, winner gets Northwood-Orange winner. Orange and Southern are regional and state contenders, but only one of the league’s four playoff teams will make the third round.
Making moves: Princeton woked its way up to a No. 9 seed in the 1AA East bracket with an 42-41 win in the season finale against Rosewood. The Bulldogs earned a 3-seed from the Carolina 1A, instead of a wild-card.
Leesville Road would not have made the 4AA playoffs without a 27-18 upset of Wakefield in the season finale.
Shut out: North Johnston (5-6) was shut out of the playoffs despite marked improvement from last year. Pinecrest, which went 9-2 on the field, forfeited 10 of its wins on Friday to end with a 1-10 record. The Patriots’ omission from the 4AA ranks also helped move the line farther west.
Don’t weep for bus rides: A trip from South Robeson – which sits miles away from the South Carolina border in the I-95 corridor, to East Wilkes – located in the foothills of N.C. on the way to Boone – seems heart-breaking. That’s three hours one-way, all because South Robeson happened to be in the 1AA West instead of East, which is filled with coastal teams.
But remember that the NCHSAA tried to get rid of this by letting 1A stay in eight-team “pods” – East, Mideast, Midwest and West – and the 1A football coaches rejected it. You get what you ask for.
If seeds mean anything: Your East finals (If the higher seeds win throughout) will be: Jack Britt at Middle Creek (4AA); New Hanover at D.H. Conley (4A); Cleveland at Fayetteville Terry Sanford (3AA); Havelock at Eastern Alamance (3A); Bunn at T.W. Andrews (2AA); SouthWest Edgecombe at Kinston (2A); Tarboro at Wallace-Rose Hill (1AA); Southside at Plymouth (1A).
If rankings mean anything: Your East finals (if the top-ranked teams in the AP poll win out) will be: Wake Forest at Middle Creek (4AA); New Hanover at D.H. Conley (4A); Orange at Fayetteville Terry Sanford (3AA); Havelock at Eastern Alamance (3A); Greene Central at Clinton (2AA); SouthWest Edgecombe at Kinston (2A); James Kenan at Wallace-Rose Hill (1AA); Southside at Plymouth (1A).