The state high school football playoffs begin Friday night. Tim Stevens, D. Clay Best, W.E. Warnock, J. Mike Blake and Geoff Neville list some of the memorable events of the regular season.
Cap 8 4A
Best moment: Sanderson scooping a fumbled interception to score in the final seconds for a 14-10 win over Wake Forest.
Biggest upset: Heritage 30, Leesville Road 7.
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Best game: Wakefield 34, Leesville Road 31
Biggest surprise: Wake Forest losing three conference games.
Best playoff bet: Wakefield.
Coaches of the year: Wakefield’s Rod Sink and Sanderson’s Ben Kolstad.
Player to watch: Leesville’s Braxton Berrios.
Will advance: Wakefield, Leesville Road, Wake Forest.
4A Eastern finals: Scotland County over Wilmington Hoggard
4AA Eastern finals: Fayetteville Britt over Southern Pines Pinecrest
– Tim Stevens, N&O high school sports editor
Greater Neuse 4A
Best moment: Knightdale quarterback Marquavious Johnson breaks into the open field with his team up 41-38 over Garner. His brother Marcell blocks the last defender with a shot at the tackle and Marquavious scores the TD. The Knights win their first conference title in school history.
Biggest upset: East Wake 54, Garner 40
Best game: Knightdale 48, Garner 45
Biggest surprise: Garner scoring 40 points in each of three losses.
Best playoff bet: Knightdale – the only team in the league without a hiccup during the conference season
Achievement in parity: Four of the seven teams in the conference – Garner, Southeast Raleigh, Clayton and East Wake – lost to teams that finished below them in the final conference standings.
Player to watch: Nyheim Hines of Garner, one of the most exciting players in the state.
Will advance: Knightdale, Garner
4A Eastern finals: Scotland County over Fayetteville Pine Forest
4AA Eastern finals: Wake Forest over Middle Creek
– D. Clay Best, Garner-Cleveland Record sports editor
Best moment: Durham Hillside’s Ian Burris Jr. kicks a 30-yard field goal in overtime to give defending state champion New Bern its first home loss since 2011, 27-24.
Biggest upset: Charlotte Country Day 25, Hillside 21
Best game: Hillside 29, Southern Durham 24
Biggest surprise: Riverside’s emergence as a playoff team, powered by Joel Evans’ running
Best playoff bet: Hillside
Coach of the year: David Hackney, Riverside
Player to watch: Nas Forte-Ferguson, Hillside’s junior quarterback, already good and getting better
Will advance: Hillside, Riverside
4A Eastern finals: Hillside over Fayetteville Pine Forest
4AA Eastern finals: Wakefield over Middle Creek
– W.E. Warnock, sports editor, The Durham News
Southwest Wake 4A
Best moment: Coby Weston, with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in remission, dressing out and playing one Senior Night snap for Athens Drive.
Biggest upset: Apex 31, Fuquay-Varina 21
Best game: Middle Creek 23, Panther Creek 21
Biggest surprise: Panther Creek was supposed to turn around its 1-10 record last year in a big way, but 9-2 with the losses by a combined 16 points still exceeds even the most optimistic expectations.
Best playoff bet: Middle Creek.
Rushing attack: The SWAC was home to five of the Triangle’s 1,000-yard rushers.
Player to watch: Dorrel McClain of Panther Creek is a multipurpose back who doesn’t slow down – even after 30-plus carries.
Will advance: Middle Creek, Panther Creek.
4A Eastern finals: Middle Creek over Leesville Road
4AA Eastern finals: Scotland County over Greenville Conley
– J. Mike Blake, Cary News sports editor
Big Eight 3A
Best moment: Orange’s 55-yard touchdown pass as time expired to get past Chapel Hill 6-0.
Biggest upset: Southern Durham 45, Cardinal Gibbons 28, the Crusaders’ first conference loss in four years.
Best game: Southern Durham 56, Northwood 54
Biggest surprise: Northwood, running full steam under under offensive coordinator Bill Renner
Best playoff bet: Orange
Coach of the year: Pat Moser, Orange
Player to watch: Kendall Hinton, Southern Durham QB, a blue-chip junior.
Will advance: Orange, Southern Durham, Cardinal Gibbons, Northwood
3A Eastern finals: Havelock over Western Alamance.
3AA Eastern finals: Southern Durham over Fayetteville Byrd.
– W.E. Warnock, sports editor, The Chapel Hill News
Two Rivers 3A
Best moment: Cleveland 45, Garner 44 – Aaron Farmer’s hold of the game-winning extra point while lying on his side as Paul Johnson kicked it gave us the first indication what a wild season it would be.
Biggest upset: Smithfield-Selma 22, South Johnston 21
Best game: Riverside 63, Cleveland 49
Biggest surprise: Clayton 53, Cleveland 23
Best playoff bet: Cleveland
Rivalry Enhancement 101: Smithfield-Selma, which won its first 37 meetings with South Johnston, breaks a four-game losing skid to the Trojans, rallying from a 21-0 halftime deficit for a 22-21 win over South Johnston that halted a 40-game losing streak.
Player to watch: Isaac Martin, Cleveland. He’s a proven running back and the colder it gets the bigger the run game gets.
Will advance: Cleveland, Corinth Holders
3A Eastern finals: Havelock over Northwood
3AA Eastern finals: Southern Durham over Wilson Fike
– D. Clay Best, sports editor, Garner-Cleveland Record
Northern Carolina 2A
Best moment: South Granville rushes for 409 yards and beats Bunn 28-21 in game that would eventually determine the league regular-season champion.
Biggest upset: Southern Vance 22, South Granville 14
Best game: South Granville 67, Franklinton 57
Biggest surprise: David Howle returns as Bunn head coach.
Best playoff bet: South Granville
Best College Prospect: Bunn kicker Freeman Jones, who is committed to North Carolina
Player to watch: Sean Bowman, South Granville
Will advance: South Granville, Bunn
2A Eastern finals: Southwest Onslow over Elizabeth City Northeastern
2AA Eastern finals: High Point Andrews over Washington
— Geoff Neville, Franklin Times sports editor