It is already Black Friday. That means we are deep into the process of narrowing down our NCHSAA football playoff fields and they are about to become extra-focused tonight. Only eight teams remain in each classification. The winners of the round four games will advance to regionals.
Here is a breakdown of what we’re looking at in each game. This week, we dove into every team’s defensive numbers.
(12) Millbrook @ (1) Hillside
Pine Forest’s run-heavy approach didn’t give Hillside too many problems last week. The Hornets downed the Trojans 28-7. Millbrook easily beat Southern Alamance.
Hillside’s defense has been very strong all season, but if there is a leak anywhere it sometimes occurs in pass defense. The Hornets allow a 53.4% completion rate. That percentage seems low compared to the numbers we see at the college and pro levels, but it’s the fifth-highest of any of the 32 remaining NCHSAA playoff teams. Millbrook brings in what is arguably the most lethal passing attack in the state and a solid run game that can control the clock when it gets ahead. Hillside needs to shut down Millbrook 4-star wide receiver Nathan Leacock. Leacock has 73 catches for 1,606 yards and 23 touchdowns so far this season.
The Hornets are an outstanding running team. Millbrook’s run defense has quitely been the best in 4A this season. Not only have the Wildcats only allowed one team to rush for 100 yards, but they only give up a remarkable 2.2 yards-per-carry. Hillside’s senior 2,258-yard rusher Jimmyll Williams might just be the best running back the Wildcats have had to face all season. This will be an interesting case of what will give in.
(11) Rolesville @ (2) New Bern
New Bern survived a serious scare from 23-seed Jordan last Friday. The Bears escaped with a 38-33 win. The Falcons were able to dominate the time of possession, limiting the amount of times New Bern’s explosive option rushing attack could score.
Now comes in the Rolesville Rams, who offer more firepower in the passing game than Jordan. Rolesville outlasted Wake Forest 42-28 in the third round.
Perhaps Rolesville’s ability to score quickly might inadvertently work against the Rams. New Bern’s defensive front needs to dominate this game for the Bears to win. When Rolesville sophomore quarterback Braden Atkinson gets time to throw, he can pick apart any defensive backfield thanks to the Power 5 weapons he gets to throw to.
New Bern’s defensive line is lethal. The Bears have racked up 44 sacks this season. The pass rush is a big reason why New Bern only allows 5 yards-per-attempt from quarteracks, which is second in 4A.
Rolesville’s run defense needs to perform much better this week if it wants to stay alive. The Rams gave up 333 yards on 50 carries to Wake Forest last week. New Bern’s rushing attack is arguably the best in the state.
(5) Hough @ (1) Grimsley
Grimsley won in a 44-36 shootout with 8-seed Independence. The final score looked a little closer than the game was after Independence managed to keep pushing the ball in the fourth quarter. Grimsley sophomore back Mitchell Summers rushed for 192 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
Hough beat East Forysth 17-7 to end East Forsyth’s undefeated season. Seven points became the lowest output of the season for the Eagles by a difference of 19.
Both of these defensive lines can get after it. Grimsley has senior 4-star defensive tackle Jamaal Jarrett, who is Georgia-bound. Whirlies 6-foot-5 sophomore edge rusher Bryce Davis has multiple SEC offers already. Davis has 11 sacks this year. The Huskies’ pass rush, which is led by juniors James Nesta, Victor Aguilera, and Anthony Walker is relentless and has paved the way for Hough’s wins over great teams like Mallard Creek and East Forsyth over the last two weeks.
Hough junior offensive tackle Eagan Boyer is a sturdy protector for 4-star UNC commit Tad Hudson. Boyer has a mix of SEC, ACC, and Big 12 offers. Grimsley might try to position Davis on the opposite side of Boyer, but when they match up, it could be fun to watch.
The Huskies’ defense has given up an average of 204.1 yards-per-game. Grimsley’s has allowed 236.2. Grimsley’s wide receiving corps is elite, but Hough’s secondary only allows 4.71 yards-per-attempt.
(7) A.C. Reynolds @ (6) Weddington
A.C. Reynolds knocked off good Charlotte teams at home in rounds two and three. In the second round, the Rockets knocked off Chambers by a score of 17-16. Last round, A.C. Reynolds stopped Butler 21-17. Now, the Rockets get to travel to just outside of Charlotte to take on Union County power Weddington. The Warriors handled Northwest Guilford at home by a score of 35-14. Northwest Guilford was without its primary quarterback in junior Tanner Ballou.
In terms of yardage allowed, Reynolds has the best defense remaining in 4A. The Rockets are only allowing 171.3 total yards per contest. Weddington has allowed a respectable 230.1 yards on average. Through the air, A.C. Reynolds’ defense has done about 1.4 yards-per-attempt better than Weddington.
(28) Triton @ (1) Northern Nash
Northern Nash came away with a 21-14 win over Southern Durham in round three. Southern Durham led 12-7 at halftime but Northern Nash took the lead back with an 80-yard kickoff return to open the second half. Southern Durham came up with a safety with four minutes to go, but a Northern Nash interception ended the momentum.
Triton continued its unlikely run with a 37-35 shootout victory over Jacksonville.
Based on season-long statistics, there is a big defensive disparity in this game. Northern Nash only allows 154.8 yards-per-game, while Triton has given up an average of 323.6. Scoring-wise, Triton has allowed 26.8 points-per-game and Northern Nash has allowed 9.1.
(7) Terry Sanford @ (3) Seventy-First
This is a big time matchup in the Sandhills.
Terry Sanford took down 2-seed Eastern Alamance on the road 27-17 last week. Seventy-First had no problems with 6-seed North Brunswick, winning 40-8.
Seventy-First’s pass defense has performed measurably better than Terry Sanford’s this season. While the Bulldogs allow a decent 6.9 yards-per-attempt, the Falcons have held opposing quarterbacks to 5.5 yards-per-attempt.
These teams have four common opponents: Cape Fear, E.E. Smith, Jack Britt, and Pine Forest. Seventy-First swept those games while Terry Sanford went 2-2. Seventy-First outscored those teams 122-39 while Terry Sanford had a comined margin of 140-90.
(4) East Lincoln @ (1) Kings Mountain
These teams are a combined 26-0 in 2022. The winner of this game might just be the favorite to capture the 3A title.
Kings Mountain got a scare from West Charlotte last week but escaped with a 22-19 victory. East Lincoln breezed by Ledford 28-7.
The defenses in this matchup are unreal. Two of the best in the state. East Lincoln only allows 129.6 yards-per-game, which is second-best of any remaining playoff team. The Mustangs hold teams to an insane 1.9 yards-per-rush, the best of any team in any classification. Kings Mountain’s defense is no slouch, either. The Mountaineers only give up an average of 189.1 total yards in a contest.
(23) Eastern Guilford @ (11) South Point
South Point came up with a big goal line stop late to defeat 14-seed Crest 21-20 at home last week. Eastern Guilford continued its impressive run with a 35-17 rout over 2-seed West Henderson. Eastern Guilford’s pass defense came up in important spots as it sacked West Henderson seven times and broke up nine passes. Eastern Guilford may not need a great pass defense performance against South Point.
Red Raider freshman Patrick Blee is running South Point’s option offense very well this season. Blee had 89 yards and an important touchdown before halftime last week. The Red Raiders have rushed for an immaculate 307.1 yards-per-game this seaon behind an impressive offensive line led by 4-star Notre Dame pledge Sullivan Absher.
In a way, Eastern Guilford probably welcomes a heavy-run team as the Wildcats have allowed an average of 312 yards through the air during the playoffs. The Wildcats gave up an average of just 78.3 yards on the ground through the first three rounds. Over the course of the whole season, Eastern Guilford has allowed averages of 238.3 through the air and 126.2 on the ground. Eastern Guilford has allowed 9.2 yards per passing attempt this season.
South Point’s defense might look at the numbers from Eastern Guilford and decide to work in some more passing than usual. Blee has thrown for 546 yards, 10 touchdowns. He has a completion percentage of 53.6%.
(12) Wallace-Rose Hill @ (1) Princeton
This is the one matchup in the 2A bracket where the teams had completely different paths to victory in round three. Princeton won in a 63-55 shootout with 8-seeded Cummings and Wallace-Rose Hill easily defeated 4-seed Nash Central 28-7.
It’s obvious, but this game is going to come down to Princeton’s stronger offense vs. Wallace-Rose Hill’s stronger defense and Princeton’s leaky defense vs. Wallace-Rose Hill’s consistent offense. Wallace-Rose Hill averages 44 points-per-game, a very good number. Princeton averages a whole 10 points more per outing.
Wallace-Rose Hill has given up 17.8 points-per-game this season. In terms of yardage, these Bulldogs allow 223.5 yards of total offense per game. Princeton has allowed 23.4 points and 308.4 yards-per-game.
Princeton running back Christian Perris has 53 total touchdowns this season, which is good for fifth in NCHSAA history.
(3) Whiteville @ (2) East Duplin
Both of these teams came away with 1-point wins in round two. Whiteville took down 11-seed Hertford County 25-24 and East Duplin edged 7-Clinton 28-27.
Defensively, the numbers look quite similar for these teams this season. East Duplin gives up 6.1 yards per passing attempt and 5.2 yards-per-rush. The Panthers’ defense allows 250 yards-per-game as a whole. Whiteville allows 5 yards-per-pass and 5 yards-per-rush. The Wolfpack allow 237 yards-per-game.
Offensively, East Duplin averages about a touchdown better per contest. The Panthers average 45.9 points-per-game and the Wolfpack average 38.3. East Duplin’s East Central 2A Conference tends to be a bit stronger than Whiteville’s Waccamaw 1A/2A Conference.
(5) Maiden @ (1) Reidsville
Maiden blew out 13-seed Bunker Hill 37-14 in a conference rematch. Reidsville evaded CHASE’s undefeated season with a 30-0 trashing. The Rams’ defense held an explosive CHASE offense to 162 total yards. Reidsville’s offense was very spread out. The most yards any player accumulated was freshman Dionte Neal with 66 receiving yards.
The matchup between Maiden’s high-powered passing attack and Reidsville’s staunch pass defense is super intriguing. Maiden quarterback Wesley Thomson has thrown for 3,597 yards, 42 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. His top target is Chris Culliver, a 4-star receiver committed to North Carolina. Culliver has caught 78 passes for 1,764 yards and 25 touchdowns. Reidsville’s defense only allows a remarkable 4.5 passing yards-per-attempt, the lowest of any remaining team in the two lower classifications. Neal has been an instant star in the secondary for Reidsville as he’s come up with 12 interceptions so far during his freshman season. Collectively, Reidsville’s defense has picked off 28 passes.
If Reidsville can limit Thomspon, Culliver, and the rest of the Maiden air attack, the Blue Devils might have to rely more on senior back Ben Gibbs. The rusher is a good player to rely on as he puts up strong numbers himself. Gibbs has rushed for 1,647 yards and 23 touchdowns on 253 carries.
The Rams have an extremely efficient passing attack that averages 9.5 yards-per-attempt and 15.5 yards-per-completion.
(7) Monroe @ (3) Burns
Based on pure numbers, these are two teams feature the best remaining defenses in 2A. Also similarly, they are happy to sling the rock when they need to. Both Burns and Monroe came out of round three with close wins.
In the third round, Burns took down 6-seeded Salisbury in a tight 24-20 game at home. The Hornets were a strong 11-2 team this season that hadn’t given up more than 21 points in a game since mid-August. Burns quarterback Ben Mauney completed 24 passes on 33 attempts for 307 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Passing has made up for 56% of Burns’ offensive attack this year. Burns has the top statistical defense remaining in 2A. The Bulldogs only allow 172.4 yards-per-game, including a great 3.25 yards-per-rush.
Monroe traveled way north to 2-seed East Surry and escaped with a 28-23 win. East Surry was previously unbeaten. Monroe junior running back Nate Crosby rushed 14 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns. On the season, Monroe’s passing game has accounted for 48% of the Redhawks’ offense, even though they only throw it 41% of the time.
The Redhawks’ defense has generated 19 total interceptions this season, led by eight from sophomore standout Jordan Young. Monroe only gives up 186.4 yards-per-game.
(4) Northampton County @ (1) Tarboro
The final score of 34-14 may not look like it, but Tarboro had a harder time against Riverside last round than it had in any other game since August. The Vikings got off to a slower start but managed to put the pedal to the metal in the second half. Tarboro’s offensive line is always going to be good, but the underclassmen rushers continue to impress. Both sophomore Mason Satterfield and freshman Kamerin McDowell-Moore rushed for over 150 yards against Riverside. They combined for three touchdowns as well.
Northampton County beat 5-seed West Columbus 32-18. The Jaguars won the turnover battle by two and won by two scores. Northampton’s senior option quarterback Anthony Harding has been a very effective player for the Jaguars. Listed at 250 pounds, Harding makes smart decisions and is a pain to bring down in the open field. He has only turned the ball over six times (four interceptions, two fumbles) and he will need to play a mistake-free game against Tarboro for the Jaguars to have a chance.
Tarboro has not allowed a team to rush for 100 yards since September 1st. Tarboro’s lone loss this season came in a 56-54 shootout against Hertford County. The Bears featured a mobile quarterback in Keveon Rodgers, who rushed for 225 yards and five touchdowns against the Vikings.
(3) Rosewood @ (2) North Moore
Last week, Rosewood doubled-up 11-seed Hobbton 28-14. North More beat 23-Perquimans 42-26.
North Moore’s rushing success continued with 359 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. North Moore presents a pretty different matchup for Rosewood than Hobbton did. While Hobbton had one of the highest passing rates in 1A, there will be games where North Moore doesn’t attempt a single pass. While there’s less variance to prepare for schematically, the players have to find a way to out-tough a North Moore team that has out-toughed all 13 opponents on its schedule this season.
Despite Rosewood’s defense getting off to a shaky start this season, the Eagles haven’t allowed more than two touchdowns in game since mid-September. Rosewood is 9-4 this season, but the Eagles only lost one game to another 1A adversary. Rosewood’s rush defense needs to come up big against North Moore to have a chance. The Eagles have allowed 6.46 yards-per-carry, the most out of the remaining 1A teams.
(4) Mount Airy @ (1) Eastern Randolph
Eastern Randolph is coming off of a tight 29-26 win over 8-seed Robbinsville, while Mount Airy shut out 12-seed Hayesville 49-0. That Hayesville team was more impressive than its 7-6 final record would indicate. The Granite Bears held Hayesville to just 16 yards of total offense. Mount Airy is 12-1 overall. The Granite Bears’ only loss this season came in a 14-12 slugfest against East Surry.
Eastern Randolph allowed 323 yards and three touchdowns on the ground to Robbinsville last week. That mark was about 50 yards over Robbinsville’s season average heading into the game. Eastern Randolph allows 5.3 yards-per-carry and 270 total yards-per-game, both second-most among remaining 1A teams.
The Granite Bears might have the best defense remaining in the playoffs. Opposing offenses can only manage 122 total yards-per-game against them. On offense, Mount Airy averages 11.7 yards-per-carry 293 rushing yards per contest.
(6) Draughn @ (2) Andrews
Draughn traveled all the way to Davidson County and left with a 19-14 win over 3-seeded Thomasville. The Bulldogs were only the second team with a winning record that the 12-1 Wildcats have played all season long. Draughn has one of the most balanced offenses you’ll ever see at the 1A level, so the right game script could get the Wildcats in a good situation against an Andrews team that doesn’t see too much of that balance. However, Andrews has only allowed 12 of 43 pass attempts to be completed in the playoffs, which is good for 28%. On the season, Andrews is only allowing 35.7% of passes to be completed.
Andrews took down 7-seed Murphy 50-23 in the third round. It was a rematch of Smoky Mountain Conference foes. It was the most points the Wildcats have allowed since September 9th of this year.