The Focus: Highest Peaks, Southwest Division 4A, the Underdog Squads

Welcome back to our gathering at The Huddle!

Only 14 days ago, there were roughly 250 teams participating in the playoffs. However, now we are down to only 64 teams. This is just an inevitable part of life, I suppose.

The second round consisted of many exciting matches, with 19 games being won by a touchdown or a smaller margin. All regions except for 1A West had at least one highly thrilling game.

This week’s installment of The Huddle covers the underdog teams that have achieved success, the mountain schools making a statement, the Southwestern 4A Conference, and other topics.

1st Down: The “Cinderella” Teams

The purpose of the quotation marks is intentional.

Several top-ranked teams have advanced to the third round of the tournament. While some may find it unexpected, these teams are not unfamiliar with this level of competition and their seeding may be deceiving. The rankings are determined by NCHSAA’s RPI method (which I am beginning to dislike and will discuss further during the offseason).

2A East: 24-seed Southeast Alamance

  • This is an amazing Cinderella story. For those who are unaware, Southeast Alamance is a newly established school and this year (2023-2024) marks its first year. It is uncommon for schools to have varsity football teams in their inaugural year, but Southeast Alamance did and they have made it to the third round after defeating Cummings and their star player. The team only has five seniors, as most of the rising seniors chose to remain at their previous schools, Southern Alamance or Eastern Alamance.

J.H. Rose, the 25-seed in 3A East.

  • A few years back, Rose achieved success in reaching the 3A state championship, despite being a 6th seed. However, this year’s Rose team faced challenges at the beginning. The Rampants have been adjusting to new quarterbacks in their offense. Some of their losses were against strong teams by a narrow margin. Unfortunately, this type of strong effort in defeat is not factored into the RPI ranking. Realistically, this team may have a ranking closer to 17-20.

3A East: 27-seed Terry Sanford

  • The Bulldogs had a successful run, defeating the previously undefeated Vance County team in a surprising first-round upset with a final score of 34-27. In their previous game, they also avenged their loss to 11-seed Harnett Central with a dominant 43-22 victory. The Bulldogs had struggled in their regular season match against Harnett Central due to numerous turnovers, but if they had won, they would have taken the 11-seed instead of Harnett Central.

The 25-seed Fuquay-Varina is in the 4A East.

  • Fuquay defeated 8th seed Jack Britt in the first round of the playoffs in Fayetteville and then went on to defeat another unexpected team, 24th seed Ashley, in Wilmington. Despite suffering some losses earlier in the season, Fuquay has been performing well lately, winning five out of their last six games. Their star player and UNC commit, Malcolm Ziglar, is a force to be reckoned with due to his size and speed, making him a challenge for opposing teams to handle.

4A West: 19-seed Mount Tabor

  • RPI did a poor job in this situation. If we had used MaxPreps ratings instead of RPI, Mount Tabor would have hosted a playoff game instead of having to play on the road twice in two rounds. Despite being ranked in the top 10 of HSOT’s Statewide Top 25 preseason poll, this Mount Tabor team faced challenges with key injuries early in the season. The Spartans suffered two significant losses, but also had two close defeats by just one point. Unfortunately, the RPI formula does not take into account close losses. Nevertheless, the Spartans have bounced back with six consecutive wins, including a victory over 3-seed Mooresville. They also have two standout players who are performing exceptionally well.

The 23rd seed Independence will face off against the 24th seed Charlotte Catholic in the 4A West division.

  • I have additional information on the performance of these two teams on third down, but I would also like to mention that RPI did not perform well. Both Independence and Mount Tabor were ranked in the top 10 of HSOT’s statewide preseason poll. It is widely recognized that Independence deserves a higher seed than 23rd. Although the Patriots lost three games, they were all against strong opponents. I commend Charlotte Catholic for their impressive victory over a primarily senior team from T.C. Roberson in Asheville.

The second down has the mountains positioned above.

The playoffs have seen Western North Carolina defy expectations.

During the second round, the teams from higher altitudes achieved significant victories.

In the 4A division, the second-seeded Watauga team emerged victorious with a score of 20-14 against the consistently hyped Mallard Creek team from Charlotte. The game seemed to be headed for an exciting ending. Each year when these predictions are released, many question Watauga’s high ranking and wonder if they have faced tough opponents. However, the truth is that Watauga is a strong team and can compete with anyone, especially on their home field.

In the third round of the playoffs, the seventh-seeded A.C. Reynolds seems to be on a roll once again as they dominated the tenth-seeded Kings Mountain with a 15-0 victory. In the previous year, Reynolds faced several Charlotte teams as a 4A team. However, this year, they have set their sights on dominating Cleveland County. The Rockets have a strong defense, but what is even more intimidating is the return of their star running back, Max Guest, who has just recovered from an injury and is playing for the first time this season.

West Henderson dominated in the 3A division, proving their strength with a commanding 37-7 victory over last year’s state champion, East Lincoln. With a perfect 12-0 record, West Henderson will face off against Oak Grove, who holds the 6th seed, this Friday.

In the second round of the playoffs, Brevard’s strong team defeated North Stanly, the 9th seed, with a score of 36-7. As the 8th seed, the Blue Devils have a chance to continue their success by playing on the road against 1st seed Reidsville in the third round.

Half of the teams remaining in the 1A West are located in far Western North Carolina, which is a common occurrence. On Friday, there will be a highly anticipated rematch between the 1-seed Robbinsville and the 9-seed Swain County. In their first encounter, Robbinsville emerged victorious over Swain County, a fellow team in the Smoky Mountain Conference, with a score of 14-8.

In the second round, Mountain Heritage, the 5th seed of the Western Highlands 1A/2A Conference, dominated Starmount with a score of 38-14. They will now face the 4th seed North Rowan in round three, where they have the opportunity to represent mountain schools and make a statement.

Lastly, we have the 10th seeded team, Murphy, located in the westernmost part of the state. Murphy made the journey to Forsyth County and dominated the 7th seeded Bishop with a score of 59-14 last Friday. Now, they will travel even further north to face the 2nd seeded Mount Airy, who is considered the top team in their classification.

In 2023, the Southwestern 4A conference was declared the best in Charlotte.

Although the lower teams in the Southwestern 4A Conference may not be strong, it is undeniable that this league was the strongest among the three Mecklenburg County conferences this year.

This is the only conference in the 4A division that currently has three teams remaining in the competition.

Butler, ranked 6th in the tournament, defeated Alexander Central (27th seed) 49-7 in the first round and West Forsyth (11th seed) 47-7 in the second round. Independence, seeded 23rd, won against Lake Norman (10th seed) 35-0 in the first round and East Forsyth (7th seed) 34-28 in the second round. Charlotte Catholic, seeded 24th, beat Myers Park (9th seed) 42-24 in the first round and T.C. Roberson (8th seed) 24-21 in the second round.

The outcome of the competition between So Meck Conference and Southwestern was determined by Catholic, the third place team from Southwestern, defeating Myers Park, the first place team from So Meck, in the initial round. The Queen City 3A/4A Conference was the final contender. This league currently has Hough, seeded 5th, performing well in the 4A division and West Charlotte, seeded 8th, performing well in the 3A division. However, Mallard Creek and Chambers lost in games that appeared to be winnable against opponents with higher seeds.

These top three teams in the Southwestern region have been performing exceptionally well recently. However, they are at a disadvantage according to the RPI formula because they have to face several teams in their conference that consistently rank lower in the 4A division.

Could Butler’s 47-7 victory against a strong West Forsyth team be considered the most noteworthy win of the playoffs? In my opinion, it is.

2nd Round Accomplishments: Achievements Made on the 4th Attempt

If you didn’t see it earlier, Southeast Alamance High School emerged victorious once again. The Stallions are the only new team in recent NCHSAA history to make it to the third round in their inaugural year as a varsity program. They overcame the favored Cummings with a score of 21-14. Cummings, a conference opponent, was led by the formidable Jonathan Paylor, widely regarded as one of the strongest offensive players in the state. A shout-out to head coach Tony Aguilar for this impressive achievement.

Mount Airy has won 26 consecutive games.

Keenan Jackson, a new addition to the Weddington team and a committed player for UNC, recently shattered the Warriors’ single-season receiving yards record in his debut year. His impressive total of 1,407 yards continues to grow. The previous record holder was Max Brimigion. Additionally, Jackson also broke the record for most receptions in a season with 80 catches, surpassing Landyn Backey’s previous record.

Clayton’s exciting win over Pinecrest in the second round has propelled the Comets to a record-breaking 10 wins in a season as a 4A team. This also marks their first away playoff victory in the fall since 1988. Additionally, they achieved two away playoff wins during the spring 2021 season.

Coaches in their first year who guided their teams to the third round:

  • Matt Reilly, Charlotte Catholic
  • Brent Wooten, Havelock
  • Ronald Gatling, Hertford (interim)
  • Shawn Baker, Hough
  • Terrance Saxby, New Bern
  • High School

    Josh and Sophia from North Rowan High School

  • Rob Creason, Oak Grove
  • Erik Teague, Reidsville
  • Jason Seidel, Robinson
  • Ranier Rackley, Rolesville
  • Josh Smith, Rosewood
  • Chris Miller, Southern Alamance (interim)

Quick Hits

  • The Donut Squad successfully prevented their opponents from scoring in the second round of the state playoffs. The teams that achieved this were A.C. Reynolds, Mount Airy, Salisbury, and Tarboro.

  • Fifty burgers were awarded to the following high schools: Murphy with 59, Hertford County with 58, North Moore with 58, Clinton with 56, Grimsley with 56, Nash Central with 56, Cardinal Gibbons with 55, Northeastern with 55, SouthWest Edgecombe with 55, West Columbus with 54, and Wilson Prep with 50.

  • Did you catch a glimpse of the latest ADM figures? HighSchoolOT was the first to share them this morning. My initial response: it seems necessary to reorganize more frequently than once every four years. Currently, there is a West Charlotte squad competing in the 3A playoffs with a student body of over 2,000 (significantly higher than several 4A schools).

  • Yes, it appears that in the upcoming realignment, there will be eight classifications instead of seven. Here is a visual representation of how the football playoffs would have been affected by this change.

  • Could someone clarify how a school could increase its enrollment by approximately 500 students in one year without undergoing significant building expansion?

Victory Formation

Thank you for taking the time to read this! This week’s issue may seem shorter than usual, but that’s because I’ve been dedicating a lot of time to creating basketball preview material. Keep an eye out on HighSchoolOT this week for extensive coverage on basketball previews and third round previews!