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What you need to know about the NCHSAA football championships this weekend

The N.C. High School Athletic Association football championships will be held Friday and Saturday at three different ACC venues: N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium, North Carolina’s Kenan Stadium, and Duke’s Wallace-Wade Stadium.

It’s hard to believe, but the fall sports season is almost done.

In honor of the 16 state finalists, here are 16 things you need to know to get ready for the eight championships (four per classification, subdivided into A/AA distinctions with AA being the larger of the two).

HOW YOU CAN WATCH

1. Once again, you can watch a championship football game on a local over-the-air TV channel thanks to the NCHSAA’s partnership with Sinclair Broadcasting. Check your local stations to see what games are airing when. You can also stream the games at nfhs.org as well, but it requires a monthly fee of $9.99.

2. Going in person? Tickets are up five bucks from last year. It’s now $15 for admission, or you can purchase them in advance online at nchsaa.org for $14. Parking at all venues is still $10.

3. Yes, we’ve got games on two days. Ideally, no championships would be taking place Friday night. But when Hurricane Florence pushed back the football postseason, it also pushed back the games that were originally scheduled for last weekend, so Hurricane Florence forced the NCHSAA to push back the end of the regular season by a week. That caused a conflict at Wake Forest University’s BB&T Field, so the school was unable to host this year. N.C. State is the only venue of the three that has wanted to host triple-headers in the past, so Friday games were needed at North Carolina and Duke.

WHO KNOWS BEST?

5. Of our 16 finalists, here is how they finished in the final AP voting: Wake Forest (1st, 4A), East Forsyth (3rd, 4A), Vance (5th, 4A), Scotland County (unranked), Charlotte Catholic (2nd, 3A), Weddington (5th, 3A), Jacksonville (6th, 3A), Southeast Guilford (unranked, 3A), Reidsville (1st, 2A), Northeastern (3rd, 2A), North Davidson (7th, 2A), Shelby (unranked, 2A), Tarboro (1st, 1A), Murphy (4th, 1A), Pamlico County (7th, 1A), East Surry (unranked, 1A). That gives the voters a pretty strong track record all in all!

6. Now, of those same 16 finalists, here are their final Adjusted MaxPreps rankings: Wake Forest (1st, 4A), Vance (4th, 4A), East Forsyth (6th, 4A), Scotland (33rd, 4A), Charlotte Catholic (4th, 3A), Weddington (7th, 3A), Jacksonville (10th, 3A), Southeast Guilford (14th, 3A), Northeastern (3rd, 2A), Reidsville (9th, 2A), Shelby (14th, 2A), North Davidson (23rd, 2A), Tarboro (1st, 1A), Pamlico County (3rd, 1A), Murphy (8th, 1A), East Surry (16th, 1A). This is a bit of a change from what it was like last year when most finalists were ranked in the top five of their respective classes. It could have something to do with how MaxPreps rankings were not adjusted to remove margin of victory last year, but they were this season.

BREAKING IT DOWN

7. Of the 16 finalists, here’s the last time each appeared in the NCHSAA state championship: Wake Forest, Scotland (in Laurinburg), Tarboro, Charlotte Catholic, Reidsville — 2017; Weddington, Shelby, Murphy — 2016; Northeastern — 2010; Jacksonville — 1994; East Forsyth (in Kernersville) — 1992; North Davidson (in Welcome) — 1966; Zebulon B. Vance (in Charlotte), Pamlico County (in Bayboro), Southeast Guilford (in Pleasant Garden), East Surry (in Pilot Mountain) — never.

8. Of the five who are making repeat trips, these are your returning champs: Wake Forest (4AA), Charlotte Catholic (3A), and Tarboro (1AA). Wake Forest, which has the longest winning streak of any team left playing at 44, is trying to make it three in a row.

9. Because of the subdivided nature of the NCHSAA playoffs, sometimes a conference gets two teams to the state championship game. That is the case in the Coastal Plains Conference, where champ Tarboro (1AA) and runner-up Pamlico County (1A) both made it, and the same goes for the Southern Carolina Conference sending both league champ Charlotte Catholic (3A) and second-place Weddington (3AA).

10. Here’s another anomaly this year: six of these teams didn’t win their conference title. As stated above, Weddington and Pamlico County didn’t have to play their conference champs in the playoffs because they were in different subdivisions. But Jacksonville (3A), North Davidson (2AA), and East Surry (1AA) each had to play regional finals on the road at their respective conference champions and all three got revenge. Scotland, which was just 5-5 at the end of the regular season, finished fourth in its league, but knocked off the second-place team in the East regional final.

11. Dividing our state into regions is difficult at times, as I found out while doing our “Five Stars” story. But, with that being said, here’s how the regions are represented in the state championships: (Triangle, 1) Wake Forest; (Piedmont, 3) Vance, Weddington, Charlotte Catholic; (Foothills, 1) Shelby; (Eastern Plains, 1) Tarboro; (Coastal, 2) Jacksonville, Pamlico County; (Northeastern, 1) Northeastern; (Appalachia, 1) Murphy; (Sandhills, 1) Scotland; (Triad, 5) East Surry, North Davidson, Reidsville, Southeast Guilford, East Forsyth.

12. Now by area code, where the 336 is the clear winner: (919) Wake Forest; (704) Vance, Shelby, Weddington, Charlotte Catholic; (252) Tarboro, Pamlico County, Northeastern, Jacksonville; (828) Murphy; (910) Scotland; (336) East Surry, North Davidson, Reidsville, Southeast Guilford, East Forsyth.

13. Now by TV market! It’s interesting to note that four different states are represented here thanks to schools located near the western, northeastern, and southern borders: (Raleigh-Durham-Fayetteville) Wake Forest; (Charlotte) Vance, Shelby, Weddington, Charlotte Catholic; (Greenville-New Bern-Jacksonville) Tarboro, Pamlico County, Jacksonville; (Norfolk, Va.-Portsmouth, Va.-Newport News, Va.) Northeastern; (Chattanooga, Tenn.) Murphy; (Florence, S.C.-Myrtle Beach, S.C.) Scotland; (Greensboro-High Point-Winston-Salem) East Surry, North Davidson, Reidsville, Southeast Guilford, East Forsyth.

14. Looking for a feel-good story? Two of the 16 finalists were affected immensely by Hurricane Florence when it ripped into the Sandhills and the lower half of the coastal region in the state. It’s been a long road for Scotland (4A) and Pamlico County (1A) just to get this far.

15. It wouldn’t be high school football without the pageantry. Reidsville, which is playing in its 23rd football title dating back to 1930, calls itself the “Football Capital of North Carolina.” Scotland’s band and cheerleaders wear kilts to keep with the school’s Fighting Scots mascot. Tarboro’s offense is all but trademarked: the Vikings operate out of the “Tarboro-T” formation.

16. This weekend will feature some of the game’s best coaches. Scotland’s Richard Bailey is making his sixth appearance in the state final. Wake Forest’s Reggie Lucas has the best winning percentage in state history (89.1) among all coaches with more than 100 career wins. Murphy’s David Gentry has 405 wins, the second-most in NCHSAA history. Tarboro’s Jeff Craddock is making his seventh appearance in the final, looking for his fifth title. 

J. Mike Blake

J. Mike Blake is an English teacher at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh and a contributor to HighSchoolOT.com. He covered high school sports for a variety of newspapers in The News & Observer Publishing Company for 10 years and won 14 N.C. Press Association awards. He is also the only two-time winner of the N.C. Soccer Coaches Association’s media person of the year award.