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The North Carolina high school football playoffs are almost a week away. Before Triangle teams can gear up for round one, though, there’s a final slate of regular season games left to be played.
Week 13 of high school football will feature an interesting mix of storylines.
Some teams will be playing for a shot at an at-large bid from the N.C. High School Athletic Association. With the NCHSAA unveiling a new playoff format this fall, in which conference standing outweighs ranking by online high school sports database MaxPreps, the final teams will be selected based on how their overall conference records match up with other postseason hopefuls.
Other teams are still vying for regular season conference championships. The South Wake, Triangle 6 and Big East conferences have yet to crown their regular season champions.
All that being said, in the case of our Week 13 ticket to get, there’s just a good game of football brewing. Here’s what to watch for as prep football’s 2018 regular season draws to a close.
Week 13 ticket to get
Cardinal Gibbons (9-1) @ Northern Durham (10-0) - Friday, 7 p.m. -- Outside of perennial power Wake Forest, Cardinal Gibbons and Northern Durham are likely the two Triangle teams with the most realistic state championship aspirations this year. The two squads will wrap up their regular seasons Friday night at Durham County Stadium. The result will have no bearing on either team’s playoff position. Nonetheless, it will serve as a final tune-up for their respective title quests. Both Gibbons and Northern finished conference play last week with undefeated records. The Crusaders’ dominant one-loss record comes on the heels of a completely undefeated regular season last year, before suffering a devastating 34-6 loss to Heritage in the first round of the 4A playoffs. The Knights have been one of the year’s biggest surprises — jumping out to a 10-0 start under second-year coach John Hammett.
Players to watch this week
WR: Alon Fallen, Northern (Sr.) -- As Knights quarterback Brycen Jackson has heated up this season, Fallen has been one of the main beneficiaries. The senior wideout leads the team in touchdown receptions with nine. His breakout game came in Week Two, when he hauled in four catches for 88 yards — including three touchdowns — in a 46-13 rout of Triangle 6-leading Jordan.
WR: Jacob Gill, Cardinal Gibbons (So.) -- Gibbons quarterback Nick Frey has received fanfare this season, and rightfully so, en route to a mark of 33 passing touchdowns and two interceptions. On the other end of more than half of those touchdown passes has been Gill. Crusaders head coach Steven Wright appears to have himself a star at wide receiver for the next two years in the sophomore. Gill ranks fifth in the state with 17 receiving scores, and his 998 yards are good enough for 13th best.
QB: Nolan McLean, Garner (Jr.) -- It’s been an up-and-down season for the Trojans, but McLean has been a constant under center. The junior, who also stars on Garner’s varsity baseball team, passed for two more touchdowns in Monday night’s loss to Middle Creek, raising his season total to 18. A hot night from McLean would be crucial for the Trojans as they look to bounce back.
RB: Derek Coombs, Holly Springs (So.) -- Coombs provided the finishing touches on the Golden Hawks 16-7 rivalry win over Fuquay-Varina last week. He powered in a touchdown from one yard out, pushing Holly Springs’ advantage to a two-possession margin with 3:22 remaining.
QB: Ben Miller, Jordan (Jr.) -- In his second year as the Falcons’ starter, Miller has upped his completion percentage by more than 10 percent. He’s also on pace to attempt almost 100 more passes than he did as a sophomore. These factors have vaulted the junior to the top of the state’s statistical leaderboard for quarterbacks. Miller’s 2,705 passing yards are sixth among all North Carolina passers.
RB: D’anthony Bright, Riverside (Sr.) -- Bright is one of the state’s most productive ball carriers, averaging 191.3 yards per game on the ground — the state’s seventh best mark. He’s also been finding the end zone at an impressive rate recently. The senior running back has scored 16 rushing touchdowns in the Pirates’ past six games.
RBs: Zonovan Knight (Sr.) and Quinton Cooley (Jr.), Southern Nash -- Knight and Cooley continued their joint dominance in last week’s 61-26 blowout at Franklinton. The senior and junior combined for 288 yards and five rushing touchdowns. Knight averaged 21.1 yards per carry, with his nine rushes for 190 yards. Cooley, meanwhile, also passed for a 54-yard touchdown on his first passing attempt of the season.
Other top games to watch
Millbrook (2-8) @ Southern Durham (3-6) - Friday, 7 p.m. -- Currently, Southern Durham sits alone in fourth place for the Big 8 conference. That won’t change, as the Spartans host non-conference opponent Millbrook. Southern owns the 59th spot in the state’s MaxPreps rankings. The 3A state tournament is a 64-team bracket. According to the new postseason format, though, Southern’s conference record will first be weighed alongside that of other teams which sit in fourth in their respective conferences, before its solid MaxPreps ranking is taken into account. Most of the teams on either side of Southern’s ranking boast better conference records than the Spartans’ 1-3 mark — which is lacking two games, since usual conference foes Chapel Hill and Cedar Ridge didn’t field teams this year. In order to have even a chance at the postseason, it looks like the Spartans will have to pull out a win on Friday night, and hope for other teams to lose.
Garner (6-4) @ Holly Springs (6-4) - Friday, 7 p.m. -- Had Garner been able to defeat Middle Creek Monday night, this game would have decided the South Wake conference championship. But the Trojans lost 41-28 to the Mustangs on senior night, dropping them into a tie for second with one-loss Middle Creek. Now, they’ll have to defeat Holly Springs on the road Friday night — on just three days of rest — to salvage a three-way share of the crown. Holly Springs is undefeated in conference play, and peaking at the right time. The Golden Hawks have won four straight, including a scrappy 21-14 victory at Middle Creek back in Week 11. If they can take care of the Trojans, they’ll also claim a first-round bye in the 4A state playoffs.
Jordan (5-5) @ Riverside-Durham (6-3) - Friday, 7 p.m. -- After a shaky 1-4 start to the regular season, Jordan has righted the ship in conference play. The Falcons are 4-0 against Triangle 6 competition, and can wrap up their first regular season crown since 2006 — in the since dissolved PAC-6 conference. To make that happen, they’ll have to pull out a road win at rival Riverside-Durham, currently tied for second place with Green Hope. The Falcons and Pirates have been evenly matched over the past three years. Though both programs suffered losing records, the match-ups were consistently tight, all being decided by six points or less. Jordan won last year’s game, holding off a late Riverside rally to secure a 10-7 victory.
Southern Nash (8-0) @ Northern Nash (3-6) - Friday, 7 p.m. -- Undefeated Southern Nash looks poised to make a deep run in the 3A state playoffs. Led by perhaps the state’s best running back duo, senior Zonovan Knight and junior Quinton Cooley, the Firebirds have roared to an 8-0 start, with their closest game a 21-point win over Green Hope back in Week One. Before they pursue a state championship, however, they’ll look to polish off their third-straight Big East conference championship Friday night. Rival Northern Nash, winless in conference play at 4-0, will play host.
Other Wake County games of note
East Wake (4-6) @ Clayton (8-2) - Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Heritage (8-2) @ Wakefield (4-6) - Thursday, 7 p.m.
Athens Drive (1-9) @ Apex Friendship (2-8) - Friday, 7 p.m.
Corinth Holders (3-7) @ Wake Forest (9-0) - Friday, 7 p.m.
Enloe (8-2) @ Knightdale (5-5) - Friday, 7 p.m.
Fuquay-Varina (6-4) @ Cleveland (9-1) - Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Green Hope (5-4) @ Sanderson (3-7) - Friday, 7 p.m.
Leesville (8-2) @ Broughton (6-4) - Friday, 7 p.m.
Panther Creek (4-5) @ Cary (4-6) - Friday, 7 p.m.
Other Durham game of note
East Chapel Hill (1-7) @ Hillside (6-3) - Friday, 7 p.m.
Other Chapel Hill-Carrboro game of note
Jordan-Matthews (1-9) @ Carrboro (5-4) - Friday, 7:30 p.m.