The best of the Two Rivers 3A Conference takes on the best of the Big Eight 3A Conference in a pair of big time 3AA playoff matchups this Friday. The verdicts from those contests — Corinth Holders hosting Hillsborough Orange and Cleveland traveling to Southern Durham — will show us just how good the Johnston-heavy Two Rivers 3A Conference is this season.
The Big Eight is the most balanced, deepest conference in the Triangle area without question.
It’s a league with a defending state champion (12-0 Southern Durham) and three other teams with eight or more wins (11-1 Orange, 9-2 Northwood and 9-3 Chapel Hill).
The conference went 3-2 in the first round of the 3AA playoffs with one of those losses being a head-to-head in-conference matchup (Southern Durham over Cardinal Gibbons) and the other loss to a traditional state power (Northwood against Northern Guilford). And a 3-0 run in the second round of the playoffs isn’t that far-fetched of an idea.
There’s no other area conference you can say that about.
However, the Two Rivers 3A Conference has been the league of surprises this season. Not many figured it ending in a three-way championship split with Corinth Holders, Cleveland and South Johnston, but it did. And week-to-week, there was always a surprise. From Smithfield-Selma’s run at a playoff bid to South’s convincing road win at Corinth Holders and Corinth Holders’ road win at Cleveland.
Most outside of the programs at Cleveland at Corinth Holders would be surprised if they were still playing come early Saturday morning. Certainly, the kids in the locker rooms at those schools wouldn’t be among the surprised crowd.
To win it will take outstanding efforts from the Rams and Pirates. They’ll have to be solid defensively, win the turnover battle and not see too many yellow flags fly in their directions. Established stars will have to be superstars and role players will have to be stars.
All that could very well happen and it would be great for Johnston County football.
Perfect positioning: Garner in the 4AA ranks and Princeton in the 1AA ranks are among the teams that I think are about as well prepared as a team can be for a deep playoff run.
Talent and on-field execution are the two main reasons for that, but another is the approach both teams have taken with using their superstar running backs. Both Johnny Frasier of Princeton and Nyheim Hines of Garner have carried the ball less times than they did last year. And yes, their overall production is down, but in the big picture of things, both seem to be more than ready for one or more games when their number gets called 30 or more times.
Looking forward to 2015: Clayton and West Johnston both saw their 2014 runs end in the first round of the playoffs with lopsided losses. It wasn’t the finish either wanted after productive runs at the end of the season that put them in the postseason.
The story of both teams from 2014 is one of establishment in my opinion.
West Johnston has established itself as a team that will be a factor in the top half of the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference team for seasons to come with a long sought after deep and talented coaching staff in place.
Clayton successfully made the switch to a new offensive approach. The Comets averaged almost 30 points a game and were among the top 15 teams in the region on both rushing and passing offense.
One of the most noticeable differences between New Bern and Clayton in Friday’s game was strength. The Bears were consistently stronger at the point of attack and in one-on-one situations than the Comets were.
Clayton head coach Randy Pinkowski talked about that in his postgame huddle with the returning members of the team. A great off-season in the weight room is going to make the Comets a part of the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference next fall.
Pinkowski is one of the best around in his approach to individual physical improvement off of the football field. If I’m a junior, sophomore or freshman in the Clayton football program I’m all ears for whatever Coach Pink or his staff tell me what to do to improve.
Bulldogs on the rise: Wake Christian’s football season ended with a tough 62-0 loss to Charlotte Victory Christian in the second round of the NCISAA playoffs on Friday night. The Bulldogs had their most successful season since moving to 11-man football and NCISAA play so far, winning eight games and taking its first 11-man playoff victory.
WCA graduates 13 seniors including many of its offensive leaders, but much of the depth along the offensive and defensive lines will return.
Parham to Wolfpack: Southeast Raleigh junior quarterback Dylan Parham committed to N.C. State this week. Parham, 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, passed for 1,773 yards during the Bulldogs’ 4-7 season.
Parham grew up a fan of N.C. State, where his father went to school.
“I love the atmosphere and the fan base,” Parham said. “I like coach (Dave) Doeren a lot. He is easy to relate to. And my father convinced me that State, which has three quarterbacks starting in the NFL, would be a very good fit for me.”
He had been a defensive back until his freshman year at Southeast. He started at quarterback after the first few games of his sophomore year and started throughout the 2014 season.
He is ranked among the top juniors in North Carolina.
Tim Stevens contributed.