One thing to watch for in all 16 HS football regional final games

After this past Friday‘s regional semifinals, 32 tickets have been punched to regionals this coming Friday.

This field of teams has everything. Seven of last year‘s eight state champions are still alive.

There are historical powers still playing, and there are programs coming into new eras of success.

There are rematches from last postseason and this regular season, and there are unfamiliar foes meeting up in dream matchups.

With that being said, here‘s one thing to watch out for or look forward to in every one of this week‘s 16 crucial matchups.

4AA East: What will Wake Forest‘s QB situation look like against Leesville Road?

When Wake Forest quarterback Noah Douglas left Friday night‘s game with a left knee injury, the Cougars were able to get the job done with a shutout win over Hoggard.

Shutting out Hoggard is one thing, but doing so against a Leesville Road offense that has put up 40-plus points in back-to-back playoff games is a whole different proposition.

If the Cougars are going to head to their fourth consecutive state championship game, they‘ll need to put up points. That means finding a solution at quarterback.

Junior Chad Hillman, the younger brother of last year‘s part-time starter Seth Hillman, took over for Douglas and would be in the mix.

Also possible is a shift to an even more run-heavy offense than what they already run with an athletic rushing option under center.

The Pride are playing great football right now, and are a very legitimate threat to end Wake Forest‘s bid for the title. Whoever is taking snaps for the Cougars on Friday night will still be in a good spot, but will have their work cut out for them.

4AA West: Can Richmond pierce Vance‘s defense?

The Vance Cougars are looking for their second state championship game appearance in as many years this year as a 10-seed having already taken down (2) Mallard Creek and (3) West Forsyth.

To get there, they‘ll have to knock off number one also. If they do it, expect the defense to be the main reason.

Over the last two years, Vance has played in eight playoff games. The Cougars have given up 7, 0, 21, 13, 9, 0, 7 and 7.

The team to score 21 was Hough, which got shut out by Vance in a regular season meeting just two games prior.

Limiting an offense as potent as Richmond County‘s is a massive task, but the players on this defense have delivered in tough spots in the postseason with regularity.

4A East: Will Cardinal Gibbons avenge last year‘s playoff loss?

In 2018, a promising season for the Crusaders was dashed in the second round of the playoffs by a young Scotland County team that struggled through the regular season but was just getting started on a run to the state championship game.

This year, the Crusaders that return from that team have been hoping for a chance at payback against the Fighting Scots.

They‘ll get it.

Last year‘s game was a 7-6 defensive battle with both offenses struggling mightily to put points on the board.

It‘s (somewhat) safe to say that both teams will top last year‘s total, but who wins this game is anybody‘s guess.

Both teams have a litany of weapons who can score on offense. Both teams have solid defenses without any real weaknesses.

4A West: Defending champs or this year‘s top team?

The East Forsyth Eagles beat the aforementioned Scotland County Fighting Scots in last year‘s state title game.

This season, they‘ll have to go on the road to take on top-seeded Grimsley, which has stormed through the season to this point in highly impressive fashion.

In the regular season, East Forsyth beat Grimsley 21-20 on the road. The Eagles should have the confidence edge.

They know they can win a state championship, and they know they can beat Grimsley at Grimsley‘s house.

But Grimsley has something special going this year, and since the regular season game was so close, the Whirlies know they have what it takes to beat East Forsyth, too.

The Whirlies rebounded from a close second round game against Porter Ridge to beat Glenn demonstrably on Friday.

Expect another close game between those two high-end squads. We will see if Grimsley can flip the script and ensure a new team represents the 4A West this season.

3AA East: Can Lee County knock off another playoff mainstay?

Any questions about Lee County‘s readiness for the level of competition that greets it come playoff time have been put to bed.

The Yellow Jackets rallied past a strong Cleveland team

This week, the question is no longer whether or not Lee County can beat good teams in the playoffs. We know they can. Now, it‘s as simple as whether or not this team is better than New Hanover.

The Wildcats have won 10 straight games after an overtime loss to Jack Britt early in the regular season.

A big key to this game will be the ability of Lee County‘s pass rush led by Desmond Evans to disturb New Hanover quarterback Chase Nixon‘s process.

Nixon has thrown for 28 touchdowns against just two interceptions in a masterful season. If he has time to operate, it could be a long night for Lee County.

If he‘s regularly pressured, the Wildcats may find it much more difficult than usual to put up points.

3AA West: Can Watauga keep pace with Shipley, Weddington‘s offense?

The reigning state champion Weddington Warriors are getting ready for a rematch of last year‘s regional semifinal against Watauga.

Weddington took last year‘s contest 42-14. This year‘s edition of the Warriors is very arguably one of the three best teams in the entire state.

This game will come down to Watauga‘s ability to slow down a high-end playmaker.

For Weddington, junior running back Will Shipley is one of the most dynamic and talented players in the entire state.

Weddington is going to score points, but slowing Shipley could help limit the damage and allow a strong Watauga offense to make its mark on the game.

The Pioneers have scored at least 40 points in all but one game since September 13. The game they didn‘t was their last one, a 35-13 win over Watauga.

The Pioneers are a clear underdog given how strong Weddington is on both sides of the ball, but the offensive confidence should be there.

3A East: Southern Nash, Eastern Alamance set for rematch with elite offenses

Speaking of great offenses, the two in the 3A Eastern regional final are certainly among the state‘s elite, but they go about it differently.

Southern Nash is once again built around an elite ground attack. After losing Zonovan Knight to graduation last season, the Firebirds haven‘t lost a step on the ground.

Wake Forest commit Quinton Cooley has picked up all of the slack with 2,479 yards and 39 touchdowns on the ground this season.

In Mebane, the Eagles like to put up their points through the air.

Quarterback Austin Bryant is having a fantastic season with 2,878 passing yards and 43 touchdown tosses this season.

Southern Nash will have to key in on Bryant‘s favorite target– sophomore Darius Kane– who has 1,142 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns.

This game is also a rematch of a playoff game from last year, where Southern Nash coughed up a late lead, allowing the Eagles to win and move on.

3A West: Kings Mountain, Charlotte Catholic appear headed for defensive battle

(10) Kings Mountain is keeping its somewhat surprising run going, and the Mountaineers are now one win away from an appearance in the 3A state title game.

The problem for them is that that win must come against the reigning state champion (5) Charlotte Catholic Cougars.

The Mountaineers are 12-2, seeded 10th because they finished in third in their conference.

Charlotte Catholic has bounced back from a slow start (albeit against great competition) with eight straight wins.

Both teams find a lot of success in suppressing the opposition‘s offense. Catholic is giving up just nine points per game during its winning streak, and Kings Mountain has given up 11 points per game all season.

But these teams can score as well. Kings Mountain quarterback Ethan Reid has thrown for 39 touchdowns this season, and he‘ll look to add to that total on Friday.

Charlotte Catholic junior Paul has run for 1,580 yards and 10 touchdowns.

This game may well come down to which one of Reid and Moore can do more damage to the opposition‘s stout defense.

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2AA East: Can battle-tested Randleman oust Salisbury?

For the second straight year, the 2AA East will be won by a team that would qualify as more of a typically Western school after North Davidson won the region last year.

Randleman will be a heavy favorite in this one. The Tigers are 13-0 and have put together some quality wins on this playoff run over East Duplin and South Granville.

Salisbury won a close game over Hertford County on the road on Friday to earn its spot in this game.

It‘ll be a shorter drive for the Hornets this week, and the 12-2 7-seed may well be up to the task. The Hornets are giving up just over eight points per game this season, and will hope that their strong defense can continue to travel well.

Randleman has scored with ease all year, averaging 42 points per game this season, although that number has dipped to a still very strong 33 in the postseason.

Sophomore Na‘hiem Lilly has powered the Tigers‘ offense this season with 2,087 yards and 30 touchdowns on the ground.

If the Tigers win on Friday, he‘ll figure to play a big role for the offense.

2AA West: Will upstart Burns shock Shelby?

The Burns Bulldogs are having quite the year.

After dropping their first game against Kings Mountain, the Bulldogs have lost just once– to these same Shelby Golden Lions by a 26-13 margin on October 18.

Outside of those two losses, the Bulldogs are unbeaten. They beat East Lincoln and Hibriten by more than two possessions before winning an overtime thriller over North Lincoln on Friday night.

If they‘re going to play for a state championship, they‘re going to have earned it.

Shelby is obviously N.C. high school football royalty, and they‘re every bit that good this season.

Senior quarterback Isaiah Bess has been putting quite the bow on his high school career this season with 3,220 yards and 39 passing touchdowns this year.

Burns will have to find away to contain a lethal Golden Lions passing attack in order to have a legitimate chance to win this one.

2A East: Clinton, Northeastern set for titanic showdown

The Northeastern Eagles won the 2A East last season, and they‘re on the doorstep of doing it again in 2019.

First, they‘ll have to go to Clinton and knock off the one-loss Dark Horses.

Northeastern lost three straight games from week five to week seven, but they‘ve won every game outside of that stretch.

Consecutive impressive playoff victories over Southwest Onslow and SouthWest Edgecombe have them in the regional final.

Clinton‘s path has been straightforward. Perfect outside of a loss to Central Cabarrus, the Dark Horses have dispatched of Fairmont, Beddingfield and West Craven the past few weeks to get to this point.

The Dark Horses last won a state championship in 2005, and they are two wins away from earning another.

If they get the opportunity to, look for a balanced rushing attack to lead the way to a win over Northeastern. J‘daques Wallace, Davion Smith and Jaheim Faison each have at least nine rushing touchdowns this season.

2A West: Will the ‘Football Capital of NC‘ head to another state title game?

The Reidsville Rams are two wins away from their twenty-first state championship in program history and their second in a row.

To get to the final week of the season, they‘ll require a victory over the West Stokes Wildcats.

The Rams‘ lone loss this season came to East Surry in a 55-49 barn-burner that accounted for almost exactly 50 percent of the points Reidsville has allowed this season.

Outside of that, Reidsville has been unbeatable this season.

If the Wildcats are going to change that, they‘ll need to pull out a second straight upset. West Stokes beat top-seeded Mountain Heritage in a very close game on Friday night to get to this round.

West Stokes has lost three times this season to high quality opponents in South Stokes, Mount Airy and East Surry.

An impressive win over Eastern Randolph in the second round set up their upset over Mountain Heritage.

The Wildcats are a high-quality team that has beaten good squads and been tested by even better ones this season, but the task against Reidsville is likely to be a bit too much.

Look for the Rams to move on to the state title game.

1AA East: Is this Holmes‘ year against Tarboro?

Last season, the Tarboro Vikings defeated the Holmes Aces 48-7 to advance to the 1AA state championship game, where they would win their second title in a row.

The Aces are about to get another shot at the Tarboro juggernaut on Friday night, and you can expect them to make the game more competitive this time around.

Whether or not they will win is another matter entirely, but this team has already taken down one of the giants in its path this season with a huge rivalry win over Northeastern.

It‘s tough to put up points against Tarboro, but the Aces have just the weapon to do it in Mitjonta Stanley.

In his senior year, Stanley has run for 1,764 yards and 33 touchdowns on just 93 carries. He‘s gone over 100 yards rushing in all but one game he‘s appeared in this season.

On the other side, Tarboro has had a lot of turnover from last year‘s championship team, but just as much success.

The Vikings‘ classic by-committee approach on offense is thriving once again, with six players having over 400 rushing yards and not one of them having over 700.

1AA West: Can anybody stop East Surry?

The East Surry Cardinals are the team that Tarboro beat in last year‘s state championship game, but they just might be the favorite out of the four remaining team‘s this time around.

The Cardinals are led by UNC commits Jefferson Boaz and Stephen Gosnell at quarterback and wide receiver, and the two have put up absurd offensive numbers all season.

Boaz has thrown for 3,837 yards and 56 touchdowns on the season. He is 10 touchdown tosses away from breaking the NCHSAA single-season record. Two more will put him in the top five.

Gosnell has been on the receiving end of 1,196 of those yards and 19 of those touchdowns.

The Mitchell Mountaineers come in with just one loss this season to Mountain Heritage, and have their own penchant for blowing opponents out with a high-powered offense and downright stingy defense.

The Mountaineers have allowed just 67 points against all season long, so if there‘s a defense at this level that can contain East Surry, it might be theirs.

But it‘s unlikely that there is a defense at this level that can accomplish that. The prolific passing game that the Cardinals employ is so unique at the 1A/AA level that it‘s ridiculously difficult to prepare for.

1A East: Northampton County looks to avenge regular season loss to North Edgecombe

On October 4, the North Edgecombe Warriors earned a 46-29 over the Northampton County Jaguars.

Unbeknownst to the participants at the time, it would be a preview of the 1A Eastern regional final.

The key to this game will be Northampton‘s ability to slow down North Edgecombe‘s power running game led by Devonte Barnes, who is exceedingly difficult to bring down listed at six-feet, 235 lbs.

Barnes has run for 1,101 yards and 16 touchdowns this season. Three of those came in the regular season matchup between these two teams.

Both of these teams are beatable, having each lost three times this season to this point.

North Edgecombe‘s losses however, came to St. Pauls, SouthWest Edgecombe and Tarboro.

Between the experience against those high quality opponents, the psychological edge of having already beaten the opponent and the fact that Barnes had so much success in that earlier meeting, look for the Warriors to earn another win over a quality Jaguars team and head to the state championship game.

1A West: Robbinsville on the hunt for 17th state championship game appearance against Thomas Jefferson Classical

The Robbinsville Black Knights are one win away from their 17th appearance in a state championship games in program history.

In their prior 16 appearances, the Black Knights are 14-2. This is a program that has historically gotten it done when given the opportunity.

To get that opportunity this year, they‘ll have to go through the Thomas Jefferson Classical Gryphons.

The Gryphons are 12-1, and Robbinsville is 13-0, winning each of its 13 games by an average of 25 points.

Robbinsville has been led offensively this season by a dynamic duo of running backs in Rylee Anderson and Lex Hooper. The two have combined for 2,952 yards and 49 touchdowns on the ground this year.

If the Gryphons are going to have any chance of pulling off the upset, they‘ll need to find a way to contain Anderson and Hooper.

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