No. 5 J-VILLE (7-3) AT No. 4 RM HIGH (8-2)
PREGAME CHATTER: The Gryphons are back in the playoffs for the first time in three years, and Jacksonville is returning for the first time in four. But the last time Jacksonville made the playoffs, they lost in the first round – on the road at Rocky Mount High. So despite the fact that these teams are seperated by at least two hours, there’s some recent playoffs history in this matchup. The Gryphons dominated the game four years ago, 42-7. This year will be different. Jacksonville, which scored 57 fewer points than it allowed this season, played six games within one possession and eight games within two scores.
WHAT IT MEANS: For both teams, it’s a chance to play in the second round of the playoffs. Rocky Mount has more history in reaching that point than Jacksonville, but that doesn’t mean the Cardinals won’t stand in the Gryphons’ way.
KEY MATCHUP: Late-game execution. Of Jacksonville’s seven wins this season, six were by one touchdown, and four were by less than three points. Rocky Mount played four games down to the wire this season, winning three.
No. 8 WIL. BEDDINGFIELD (4-6) AT No. 1 TARBORO (10-0)
PREGAME CHATTER: Well, this one doesn’t bring much excitement to the postseason. Just a week after defeating Wilson Beddingfield, 28-0, to cap an undefeated regular season and the Eastern Plains Conference championship, Tarboro looks to duplicate the effort. This game is the braintrust of the NCHSAA’s pod system, which leaves many coaches scratching their heads about how they can play a conference opponent in the first round of the state playoffs.
WHAT IT MEANS: It’s the beginning of Tarboro’s march toward a fifth straight 2-A title appearance and fourth consecutive championship.
KEY MATCHUP: Wilson Beddingfield defense vs. Tarboro backfield. The only hope for the Bruins is to have the Vikings fumble away the football a handful of times. Ball security should guarantee the Vikings a trip to the second round.
No. 6 SOUTHERN NASH (8-2) AT No. 3 WILSON HUNT (10-0)
PREGAME CHATTER: Southern Nash has made it clear: It does not want to play Wilson Hunt. No matter its feelings, the squad will travel to Wilson in a battle of the top two teams in the Big East Conference. Chalk this matchup to the infamous pod system, which seems to have punished the Firebirds for winning eight games and finishing second in their league.
WHAT IT MEANS: One of these two solid teams will be out in the first round. It might be unfair, but it’s reality.
KEY MATCHUP: This doesn’t come as a shock. The Firebirds must stop Wilson Hunt running back Josh Joyner. Joyner finished with 167 yards and three touchdowns in his team’s 30-21 victory Oct. 12 in Bailey.
NO. 6 SW EDGE. (5-5) AT NO. 3 E. DUP. (9-2)
PREGAME CHATTER: As far as matchups go, SouthWest Edgecombe drew a tough one. The Cougars enter the playoffs fresh off a bye week, and they’ll travel to an East Duplin squad that knows all about playoffs success. East Duplin has won a playoffs games in three of the past five seasons.
WHAT IT MEANS: Could this be coach Raymond Cobb’s last game at SouthWest Edgecombe? The Cougars want to keep Cobb’s pending retirement on ice for the forseeable futre.
KEY MATCHUP: SouthWest Edgecombe’s offensive line vs. East Duplin’s defensive line. No surprise here. SouthWest Edgecombe would love some 13-, 14- or 15-play drives that end in touchdowns and keep East Duplin’s offense off the field.
NO. 5 WELDON (4-5) AT NO. 4 N. EDGE. (4-5)
PREGAME CHATTER: Another intra-conference first-round playoffs matchup gives North Edgecombe a much-welcomed and surprising home game. The Warriors will play host to Weldon, which they defeated by six points two weeks ago. The Warriors are in the playoffs for the first time under coach Keith Parisher, and if they build momentum, they could be a surprise team in the 1-A bracket.
WHAT IT MEANS: For a squad that battled through some tough nonconference games, a victory in the playoffs would be a testament to North Edgecombe’s toughness.
KEY MATCHUP: North Edgecombe offensive line vs. Weldon front seven.Parisher said that if he has a healthy offensive line, the Warriors should be able to run the football with success.
– Jessie H. Nunery & Justin Hite