WILMINGTON — Instead of previewing each game heading into the first round of the state playoffs for high school football teams this week, Port City Daily’s Joe Cats convened a meeting of the minds. With the help of New Hanover County Schools Television, Cats sat down with four members from the local media to break down each program moving into Friday’s kick off.
The weekly “Sports Round Table” broadcast airs during football and basketball season at 8 p.m. on Time Warner Cable Channel 5 and Charter Cable Channel 191. With a rare bye week between the final date of the regular season and the start of the tournament, it was a good time to assess each team’s strengths and weaknesses, including player of the year candidates and a complete breakdown of how the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) goes about seeding the postseason brackets.
All games across the state are set to kick off at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 18.
The 30-minute round table discussion was the first of its kind in New Hanover County as Tim Hower (StarNews), John Rendleman (WWAYTV3), John Smist (WECT) and Ben Darnell (ESPN Radio) chimed in on the high school football season.
- No. 1 New Hanover (7-4) vs. No. 8 Northern-Durham (5-6)
The Wildcats earned a one-seed out of the east region, but shouldn’t look ahead of Friday’s matchup against Northern-Durham. New Hanover has its fair share of play-makers, with likely Newcomer of the Year, Blake Walson, at quarterback.
Wiz Vaughn is as good an athlete there is when it comes to high school football, while a strong corps of skill players makes it tough to key on one particular aspect of the game.
Defensively, New Hanover has gone up against some quality opponents during the course of the regular season and look to prove their might come Friday. Jomaious Williams and Kalil Toney anchor the defensive line, while linebackers Troy McCaskill, Grant Daley, Nas Brown and Jahann Simmons give the Wildcats a corps second level as good as anyone.
- No. 6 Hoggard (6-5) at No. 3 Durham-Hillside (9-1)
Hoggard might be one of the hottest teams in the area moving into the playoffs, but the rust versus rest argument could come into play for the Vikings after winning four straight to end the regular season.
Tony Allen and Rashod Wallace would be a feature back in any offense, but the tandem gives Hoggard options in the ground game to go along with veteran quarterback Josh Jones.
Collin Hairr’s return from injury a few weeks back at wide out has been a huge reason for the Vikings success on the offensive side of the ball.
Durham-Hillside will be a tough test for Hoggard’s defense, with the Hornets competing in a quality PAC-6 Conference. Hillside went 9-1 during the regular season and won the division with a 6-0 mark in league play. The Hornets have won seven straight with their only setback coming on Sept. 9 against Greensboro-based Dudley.
Isaiah Kemp and Keon Bradley have the ability to be lock down corners alongside Reece Moulton, while Cullum Crowley, Christian Hollar and Landon Romano need to play big inside.
- No. 5 Laney (7-4) at No. 4 Fuquay-Varina (8-3)
While Laney’s defense has been any short but unbreakable this season, allowing less than two touchdowns per game, it’s the Bucs offense that will need to step up on the road.
A key part to Laney’s success has been the ability to get the run game going early. With Imeek Watkins in the backfield and Sherod Sidbury learning the ins and outs of the option offense in his first full season at quarterback, the Bucs have sputtered at times.
Jason Billingslea has been a vital asset to moving the sticks and allows opposing defenses to turn their focus to him rather than solely on Watkins, who has rushed for over 4,000 yards in his high school career.
Laney’s defense is filled with experience and leadership. It starts up front. Dionte Hicks, Lewis Powell are key run stuffers, with Travone McGhee and Ryan Daborowski coming off the edge. Eli Boone, Karl Lane, and Tyler Moore play the pass as good as anybody, while Cayman Czesak is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate at middle linebacker.
- No. 1 West Brunswick (8-3) vs. No. 8 Northern Guilford (4-7)
There’s likely not a team that wants to get back on the field more than West Brunswick. The Trojans will take the field for the first time in 21 days on Friday after an open week to end the season in addition to the extra week off because of scheduling changes due to Hurricane Matthew.
West Brunswick hopes to sure up their offensive line after a key injury late in the season played a big role in the Trojans inability to get Bubba McCray going on the ground. McCray is a Player of the Year candidate with over 1,500 yards rushing and 32 touchdowns this season.
Opposing defenses have keyed on McCray over the past two outings, limiting the senior to under 100 yards in back-to-back setbacks. Maliek King is no slouch with at 6-foot, 225-pounds and can pound the rock, but West Brunswick will need to clean up some things as far as penalties and turnovers if they look to make a run.
- No. 8 Topsail (4-7) at No. 1 Lee County (10-1)
- No. 7 North Brunswick (7-4) at No. 2 T. Wingate Andrews (7-4)
A pair of 7-4 teams square off in High Point on Friday night as North Brunswick takes the three-plus hour bus ride to face off against T. Wingate Andrews.
The Scorpions need shake out the cobwebs from the long trip and get the ball to its play-makers. Jc Smith tops the list. Like most 2AA teams, they like to run the football. Controlling the line of scrimmage, limiting miscues and making big plays in other facets of the game could be a deciding factor.