Summer is over. Fall is here, and it’s time for men to get to work.
If by “work” you mean “football.”
Everything up to now for local football teams has been playtime. The first week of conference games has arrived, and these games will determine where a team will end up in the playoffs – or even if a team gets to have a post-season at all.
And right at the start, one game this week could be the one that decides who wins the Big 8 Conference: Orange (5-0) at Southern Durham (3-2). They are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday.
In PAC-6 games Friday, Northern (0-5) visits Riverside (2-3) at Linny Wrenn Stadium, Hillside (2-2) hosts East Chapel Hill (1-4) in Russell Blount Stadium, and Roxboro Person (3-2) at Jordan (0-5) hosts Roxboro Person (3-2) in Claude Currie Stadium. All those games start at 7 p.m.
Also, Kestrel Heights (4-0 for the first time in history) hosts the Greensboro Panthers, a team comprising home-schooled players from Guilford County and nearby communities.
Orange at Southern: Southern and Orange have finished 1-2 in the Big 8 Conference football standings in both years since the 3A conference was formed. Orange compiled a 24-4 record in 2013-14, and three of those losses were to Southern Durham. The only other loss was in last year’s playoffs to Northern Guilford, which went on to win another state championship.
Likewise, having defeated Orange 55-41 in the 2013 regular season to claim the Big 8 crown, Southern knocked the Panthers out of the playoffs that year and two games later won the state 3AA championship.
Southern won last year’s game at Auman Stadium 27-23 and went on to complete another undefeated run through conference opponents for a second league title, finishing the season at No. 1 in the Associated Press ranking of N.C 3A teams.
This season, Orange comes to Durham riding a five-game winning streak and ranked No. 3 in the Triangle by the News & Observer. The undefeated Panthers are led by multi-talented Bryse Wilson, who has been filling in at quarterback after an injury to erstwhile starter Jackson Schmid. Wilson also starts at linebacker, punts and happens to be committed to play baseball next year for the University of North Carolina.
Southern has lost twice by a single point – on the road – at Fayetteville E.E. Smith (4-1) and at Raleigh Wakefield (3-1). The Spartans are averaging 31.6 points a game, thanks in large part to the running of Jordan Brown, the quarterback play of Jalen Greene and the pass-catching of Jordan Mackins.
Northern at Riverside: This is probably the most important game of the week in terms of the PAC-6 standings. For the past five years, the loser of this game has missed the state playoffs. Northern won last year’s matchup 34-22 in the last game of the regular season to earn a playoff berth.
Northern needs a win to halt its slide toward the abyss. The Knights showed life early in last week’s game with Southern and took a 7-6 lead in the first quarter on a 40-yard pass from Luke Fenlon to Cade Barnhill, but, like every team that’s faced Southern this year, they found it hard to contain the Spartans’ wickedly fast offense.
Riverside needs a win to get back to .500 and get into the race for a post-season berth. Yet to beat a 4A opponent this year, the Pirates turned the ball over five times last Friday against Wakefield and never got their offense into gear.
East at Hillside: Hillside is starting to look like its old self after administering a 41-3 shellacking of Halifax (Va.) County last week. The offense is clicking and the Hornets improved dramatically on defense last Friday after giving up an average of more than 33 points per game to their first three opponents.
Hillside’s Jamal Currie-Elliott and Abdul Adams may be the best pair of running backs on any one team in the state, and having state hurdles champ Marcus Krah and Daeshawn Stephens as receivers for Chauncey Caldwell’s passing gives opponents plenty to think about.
East Chapel Hill, which went 0-11 and forfeited last year’s game to Hillside, lost starting quarterback Brater Gerber during last week’s 41-12 loss to Chapel Hill after he took a helmet to his chin.
Person at Jordan: After years of anticipated improvements that never materialized on the field, the Rockets may be for real. They’ve come back from halftime deficits two weeks in a row and have won three of their first five games for the first time since 2009, the last year they reached the playoffs. Person has beaten Jordan three straight years.
Hillside 44, Halifax (Va.) County 3
Holly Springs 44, Jordan 7
Raleigh Wakefield 36, Riverside 6
Southern 36, Northern 13
Kestrel Heights 24, Rocky Mt. Prep 17
East Chapel Hill (1-4) at Hillside (2-2)
Northern (0-5) at Riverside (2-3)
Roxboro Person (3-2) at Jordan (0-5)
Orange (5-0) at Southern (3-2)
Kestrel Heights (4-0) vs. Greensboro Panthers homeschool team