It took a bit longer than anticipated but once all was said and done Saturday afternoon, all nine high schools in The Wilson Times readership area learned their football seasons would extend at least one more game in the NCHSAA playoffs.
Story lines abound with Wilson Prep earning the only home game for a Wilson County team in its first season of football while Hunt has not one, but potentially two revenge games ahead of it.
Beddingfield is back in the postseason for the first time since 2019 while Fike, the newly recrowned Wilson County (Schools) champion, can atone for a 38-year-old disappointment.
Southern Nash, despite a fourth-place finish in the 2-A/3-A Big East Conference, picked up a home game with its own chance at redemption potentially awaiting in round 2.
Grabbing playoff berths were Greene Central, the runner-up in the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference, and SouthWest Edgecombe along with North Johnston in the 2-A ranks while 3-A Quad County Conference champion C.B. Aycock is also playing at home in the 3-A first round.
MORE HISTORY AWAITS TIGERS
In a historic first season for Wilson Prep, another debut awaits the Tigers in the postseason. Wilson Prep, in finishing 8-2 overall, earned the No. 10 seed in an admittedly watered-down 1-A East bracket that includes all nine teams from the 1-A Tar-Roanoke Athletic Conference in which the Tigers finished third at 6-2.
“I’m excited,” said Tigers head coach Phillip Dickens. “It is just an example of all the work we have put in since June. And the goal was to be at home and to open up the playoffs and we feel we got a pretty good draw. I thought we should have been higher in the seeding, but I understand how it works. But all of our guys are excited about a chance to kick off the playoffs at home.”
Wilson Prep will host No. 23 Perquimans (2-8), the No. 5 team from the 1-A Four Rivers Conference, and Dickens assures that all records are irrelevant henceforth.
“I don’t want our kids looking at their records because, you know, when it comes playoff time, everybody is 0-0,” he said. “And that’s where I want them to keep their focus. This team, they’re there, they have beat somebody and we can’t overlook them. You know, that’s what happened to us when we played North Edgecombe. We looked past them and I don’t want to make that mistake as a coach no more.”
Indeed, a 33-13 loss in Leggett in mid-September served as the Warriors’ first win that propelled them toward the TRAC’s runner-up spot and its No. 2 seed in the state playoffs. Unless upsets occur, Wilson Prep will play just one home game if it advances. Awaiting in round 2 is the winner between No. 7 Bear Grass Charter and No. 26 East Columbus, which the Tigers beat in the season opener.
If the Tigers are to cross paths with top-seeded Tarboro, winner of eight state titles, including the 2021 1-A crown, it won’t be until the East final. At this point, Dickens is ready for all comers.
“Right now, in the way that we’re playing, I’m looking forward to anybody right now,” he said. “We’re peaking at the right time.”
QUAD COUNTY MASHUP
Hunt players and coaches went to bed Friday night fearing the worst from the NCHSAA seedings Saturday after falling 35-28 to arch rival Fike in the season finale. Their seventh-straight loss to the Golden Demons not only kept the Warriors from winning the Wilson County (Schools) Championship but also denied them a home playoff game.
Correct on both counts but Hunt won’t be complaining about its assignment. The Warriors, 6-4 and 4-3 in the 3-A Quad County Conference, will have a direct opportunity to right one of its regular-season wrongs as well as the chance for more. Hunt, the No. 21 seed, will travel to No. 12 Smithfield-Selma, the No. 2 team from the Quad County and one of three teams to beat the Warriors in league play.
“I’m quite sure they’re gonna be ready for us,” Warriors head coach Juan Jackson said. “They’re gonna make the adjustments that they didn’t make the first time they played us, but we’re excited about the opportunity to get another crack at ‘em.”
The Spartans (9-1, 6-1 QCC) shared the QCC title with C.B. Aycock after the Golden Falcons inexplicably lost to last-place Southern Wayne on Friday, but of more concern was a 21-17 victory by SSS at Hunt on Sept. 23. The Warriors blew a late lead after losing 10-7 at Aycock on Sept. 16. The Golden Falcons (9-1, 6-1) stopped SSS 7-0 Oct. 21 to temporarily take over the QCC but now CBA is the No. 5 seed and will host No. 28 Triton (5-5), the No. 4 team from the 3-A/4-A All-American Conference. Should the Falcons prevail, guess who they will play in the second round.
That’s right, the Hunt-SSS winner, which Jackson heartily welcomed as another opportunity after failing to take care of business Friday and securing a home game.
“We’re just excited about the opportunity to be in the dance and we’re ready to play. We’re gonna be ready to play,” he assured.
DEMONS DRAW SCOTS
While Fike would have likely slipped into the bracket, getting that fifth win and tying Hunt for third place in the QCC solidified its seeding. The prize the Demons won is a trip to No. 10 Scotland County (6-4), the top 3-A team and overall No. 2 from the 3-A/4-A Sandhills Conference.
“We’ve got to drive for two hours but we’ll go wherever we have to play,” Fike head coach Tom Nelson said. “I don’t know much about them. I know their coach (Richard Bailey) and that’s about it.”
Nelson admitted to knowing one more thing about Scotland County’s vaunted program – the Fighting Scots handed Fike one of its most painful postseason defeats ever in the 1984 4-A quarterfinals. Just a freshman at Fike at the time, Nelson, who would graduate from Hunt, watched from the stands as Fike, undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the state, lost 20-14 when No. 4 Scotland County blocked a punt for a touchdown in the final minute at Fike.
It was the only time the teams have played.
“We’re going to go down there and give it our best shot and hopefully we’ll come out on top,” Nelson said.
BRUINS BACK ON THE ROAD
Beddingfield is also going to hit the road for the first round for its first 2-A playoff game since 2019, but that’s OK because that’s where the Bruins have been all season with their stadium unavailable due to track reconstruction.
“Well, that is nothing different than what we’ve been doing all year!” laughed Bruins second-year head coach Ben Ellis, whose team won all three “home” games at Fike, Barton College’s Truist Stadium and Hunt.
This time Beddingfield (5-5), No. 3 in the 2-A Neuse 6 Conference, will take the No. 26 seed to Clinton, where the No. 7 Dark Horses (9-1), champions of the 2-A Southeastern Athletic Conference await.
“I’m real happy that the boys were able to work real hard,” Ellis said. “The coaches have done a great job and to be in the playoffs is a great feeling for our guys, for sure.”
The Bruins won just one game on the field in Ellis’ first season in 2021, which began with the coaches just hoping to have enough players for a team following a run of finishing first or second in the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference for three straight years. But the difficult 2021 campaign paid off this season.
“I think (it was) just another year of experience,” Ellis said. “We brought a bunch of kids back that kind of went through some growing pains last year but also we brought in some new guys. You know, just really another year under the belt of what we want to do. Got some coaches, some new faces, and the coaches have done a great job. Just kind of getting them acclimated because we have a lot of guys that really don’t have a lot of football experience. You know, we’ve got probably two or three seniors that are not your typical seniors in that this is probably their first year playing football, and they’ve had to give us a ton of minutes, you know, real real vital minutes. I’ve got two guys like that that are starting on the offensive line and you know, just stuff like that. So I think just guys just getting more experience, just playing football and doing it the way we kind of want them to do it.”
And winning brings confidence, which Ellis said gives the Bruins a chance against anybody.
“They kind of believe in themselves now, so they shouldn’t be too overwhelmed by having to go somewhere like Clinton and play in the first round,” Ellis said. “I would take this group anywhere. I have full confidence in them being competitive with whoever lines up against them. I know that this group, they’ll fight to the end no matter who it is. I’m just happy for these guys that they get the opportunity to go out there and play against a really good football team on Friday.”
FIREBIRDS AT HOME
While this was easily one of the “worst” seasons in recent memory for Southern Nash, a program that played for the state 3-A title in 2019, the Firebirds still went 7-3 and picked up a home game in the first round of the 3-A playoffs.
Southern Nash, the No. 16 seed and No. 4 team from the 2-A/3-A Big East Conference, will welcome the same team the Firebirds defeated in the first round of the 2021 playoffs – Jacksonville White Oak. The Vikings (7-2) tied Richlands and West Carteret for the 3-A Coastal Conference title but took the No. 2 seed.
“We’re excited about it, obviously,” said Firebirds head coach Brian Batchelor. “We told the guys last week that’s what we were working for last week – we wanted to get a win and make sure we had a home playoff game. It was good to do that last night and now we’ll get the reward for it. Anytime you get to play in front of your folks at home is good.”
Beating White Oak is job No. 1 for the Firebirds, who have been beleaguered by injuries throughout the season, but they will likely have a chance at revenge themselves if they are successful. Awaiting Southern Nash is a potential second-round matchup with top-seeded and undefeated Northern Nash, the Big East champion that has beaten Southern Nash in the last two-regular season clashes on the way to the conference crown. Northern Nash, a 27-7 winner at home over the Firebirds two Fridays ago, hosts No. 32 Jacksonville-Northside (1-8), the sixth-place team in the Coastal.
North Johnston snuck in as the 29th seed in the 2-A East as the Panthers (3-7), No. 4 in the Neuse 6, visit fourth-seeded Nash Central (7-3), the Big East runner-up.
Greene Central, which settled for second in the Eastern Plains, carries a 9-1 mark and the 2-A East No. 13 seed into its home game against No. 20 St. Pauls (6-3), the Southeastern Athletic runner-up. SouthWest Edgecombe (4-6), No. 4 in the EPC and seeded 19th, will visit No. 14 John Holmes of Edenton. The Aces (7-3) placed third in the 2-A/3-A Northeastern Coastal Conference.