For five years, Hillside has owned the PAC-6 football crown.
As former Hornet defender Jalon Bethea said shortly after playing in this summer’s N.C. Coaches East-West All-Star Game: “We don’t think about the PAC-6 too much. We think about winning state championships.”
Hillside has won 33 straight PAC-6 games, and until somebody beats them, the Hornets are justified in tossing off the sort of remarks that most opponents would post on their locker room bulletin board for inspiration.
Cardinal Gibbons is entering the PAC-6 this year as a brand new member of the state’s 4A classification. And they hope to play Seabiscuit to Hillside’s War Admiral, making the PAC-6 into a real horse race for the first time since Southern Durham left the conference in 2009.
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Sorting out the field
Favorite: Hillside – The Hornets have won 33 straight conference games. And they could be more talented this year than they were in 2014.
Contender: Northern Durham – The Knights are hungry for a title and their first playoff win since 2006.
Dark horse: Cardinal Gibbons – Nobody will out-work or out-prepare the Crusaders.
Seven players to know
Abdul Adams, RB, Hillside: A transfer who spent time at multiple Washington D.C. schools, Adams is a Michigan State recruit.
Ridge Ford, DB, Hillside: A transfer from Green Hope, last year he was the only player to earn All-SWAC honors for the third straight time.
Marcus Krah, WR, Hillside: One of the fastest players in the nation.
Domineke McNeil, RB, Northern Durham: Looking for a breakout year on a team that wants to run the ball.
Jordon Riley, DL, Riverside: Pirates junior is considering offers from Tennessee, Auburn, N.C. State and North Carolina.
Wes Wagner, QB, Cardinal Gibbons: Broke his collarbone in Game 2 last year, preventing him from showing all he can do.
Antonio Williams, QB, Person: The Rockets will rise or fall depending on his performance.
Mark your calenders
Aug. 21 - Hillside at New Bern: Perhaps the finest intersectional rivalry in the state. The winner of this one has reason to think it will contend for a state championship.
Aug. 21, Sept. 4 and Sept. 11 - Cardinal Gibbons vs. the Cap-8 and SWAC: These games against Athens Drive, Green Hope and Broughton – scheduled before the Wake County leagues prohibited scheduling non-public schools – now have added meaning for the Crusaders.
Sept. 4 - Hillside vs. Southern Durham: Played at N.C. Central’s O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium. Both teams still have memories of recent state championships. Both are favorites in their conferences. Both have big, loyal fan bases in Durham. The battle of the bands is as good as the football.
Sept. 11 - East Chapel Hill at Bartlett Yancey: For years, the rural Yancey County school provided the one guaranteed win on the Wildcats’ schedule. The Buccaneers would love to get even, and Wildcats need every win they can get.
Sept. 25 - Northern at Riverside: Also a conference-opener for both teams, which are located less than 5 miles apart. They just don’t like each other.
One statement, one question
Cardinal Gibbons (6-6, 3-4 in Big 8): The Crusaders had lots of youth and lots of injuries in 2014. Is it possible that the other members of the PAC-6 could under-estimate them?
East Chapel Hill (0-11, 0-5): In recent years the Wildcats have played as many as six recent state champions in a single season, but this year’s non-conference schedule gives them a chance to get on their feet before PAC-6 play. How fast can first-year head coach Ryan Johnson install his system?
Hillside (9-5, 0-5): They look to be more talented than they were last year. Are these Hornets as talented as the undefeated 2010 4A champions?
Jordan (2-9, 2-3): The Falcons showed signs of life last year. Can they score better than the 6.4 points per conference game they did last year?
Northern (5-7, 4-1): The Knights have been the sleeping giant of the PAC-6. Will the playoff success of the school’s baseball team (which included five starters from the football team) spill over into the fall?
Person (2-9, 1-4): David Kleine has provided some long-absent stability to the coaching staff. Person is the smallest school in the 4A; will the student body produce enough players to provide some needed depth?
Riverside (4-9, 3-2): The Pirates must learn to hang tough in the fourth quarter, say coach Chris Howell. Will the big, experienced front line provide time for the passing game to develop?