N. BERN (4-0) AT NASH CENTRAL (2-2)
PREGAME CHATTER: The Bulldogs have their greatest challenge of the season in the Bears. New Bern is the third-ranked team in 4-A, having won their four games this season by an average margin of 25.5 points per game. It was a struggle for Nash Central in its 13-8 loss to Hertford County in Week 3, though this game will not be nearly as close if the Bulldogs can’t find the end zone again.
WHAT IT MEANS: It would be a monumental upset if the Bulldogs won tonight, but this game is more about Nash Central proving to itself that it can be a good football team. The Bulldogs know the Bears are one of the top teams in the state – playing on their level will let the Bulldogs know they can beat anyone in the Big East Conference.
KEY MATCHUP: Nash Central vs. itself. The Bulldogs’ biggest issue so far has been penalties and missed assignments, which played big parts in their two losses. The Bulldogs must clean up the correctable mistakes to stay in this game.
ROCKY MOUNT HIGH (4-0) AT GREENVILLE ROSE (1-3)
PREGAME CHATTER: The Gryphons were undefeated last year when Greenville Rose came to Rocky Mount. A 29-point loss proved to be the ultimate thorn in the Gryphons’ side. Rocky Mount High didn’t win another game the rest of the year. Marquis Gorham decimated the Gryphons’ defense in the beginning of the end for former coach Dickie Schock. First-year coach Jason Battle is waiting for his team to play four complete quarters, but so far, a few great quarters sprinkled in with a single bad one has been good enough.
WHAT IT MEANS: The Gryphons haven’t beaten Rose in four years – then again, there are a lot of things Rocky Mount hasn’t done in four years. A win tonight would give Battle is fifth win in just five games. That would match the start of B.W. Holt’s career.
KEY MATCHUP: Rocky Mount’s defense vs. Rose’s offense. While the Rampants haven’t had the best time scoring points this season – the team has just 53 points in four games – the Rocky Mount High defense hasn’t always been stout this year. If the Gryphons defense can play for more than just a half, it should give its offense enough breathing room.
NORTH PITT (2-2) AT TARBORO (4-0)
PREGAME CHATTER: Tarboro seems to be improving each week, and the Vikings produced their first shutout of the season last week in a 49-0 victory at North Edgecombe. Tonight, the three-time defending 2-A state champs open Eastern Plains Conference action against North Pitt. The series has been one-sided in favor of Tarboro – as have most – in recent seasons. The Vikings have won each of the past eight meetings, and all but one of those has been by double digits.
WHAT IT MEANS: This is the time of year when Tarboro steps up its effort and execution. The Vikings did not win the Eastern Plains Conference title last season, and surely that is one of their goals in 2012.
KEY MATCHUP: Quarterback Aaron Moore vs. North Pitt’s defense. It seems as if the Vikings take turns each week with regard to their offensive standouts. If Moore can keep the offense playing at a productive pace, the Vikings could roll again.
SOUTH GRANVILLE (3-1) AT SOUTHERN NASH (4-0)
PREGAME CHATTER: Coaches want their top players to carry the load when Friday night rolls around, and that’s exactly what Southern Nash coach Brian Foster is receiving out of his talented offensive line. The Firebirds have size, talent and experience on their line, which completely has taken over games the past three weeks. If its line continues to play well, Southern Nash always stands a good chance of winning.
WHAT IT MEANS: This is the last chance to tune up before the games really count. Southern Nash has improved with each week, and now is not the time for a letdown. Its Big East opener against Wilson Fike is 14 days away.
KEY MATCHUP: Southern Nash’s defensive replacements vs. South Granville’s offense. Two starting linebackers are out for the Firebirds, who are knicked up all over their roster. Southern Nash will head into their bye week undefeated if the replacements can show a penchant for creating turnovers like the complete first unit has.
SOUTHEAST HALIFAX (3-1) AT NORTH. EDGECOMBE (1-2)
PREGAME CHATTER: North Edgecombe finally enters the easier portion of its schedule – the Tar-Roanoke Conference. The Warriors likely are glad to be out of nonconference play after they took a 49-0 beating on the chin by neighborhood rival Tarboro. There wasn’t much good that came out of the loss on the heels of a bye week. North Edgecombe has won five of the past seven meetings against Southeast Halifax. Here is a telling number about this year’s Southeast Halifax squad: Its three wins this season have come against teams that are a combined 0-11.
WHAT IT MEANS: North Edgecombe is as talented as any team in its conference, and tonight is the first step in making a league title a reality.
KEY MATCHUP: Warriors’ offensive line vs. themselves. Last week’s loss to Tarboro wasn’t a confidence booster. Tonight is a chance for the unit to open up holes and regain its swagger.
WILMINGTON LANEY (3-1) AT NORTHERN NASH (2-2)
PREGAME CHATTER: A field goal as time expired gave Northern Nash a victory against Winterville South Central in Week 4, though some of the same concerns arose again. For the third time in four weeks, Northern Nash led by double digits at halftime only to let the opponent back into the game in the fourth quarter. As Northern Nash’s fitness improves, the Knights hope their ability to play an entire game does, too.
WHAT IT MEANS: A winning record for the Knights. The last time Northern Nash could say it was a winning football team was in November of 2010. A win tonight sends the Knights into Big East play with more wins than it had in all of 2011.
KEY MATCHUP: Northern Nash’s defense vs. Laney quarterback Tariq Lane. The Knights have been shaky at best stopping opposing offenses this season, but they must keep Lane corralled to win this game. Lane has 13 combined touchdowns through four weeks. He’s rushing for nearly eight yards per carry and throwing efficiently enough to be a major problem. Northern Nash’s defensive gameplan must begin with slowing his production.
LASKER NORTHEAST ACADDEMY (0-4) AT ROCKY MOUNT ACADEMY (0-3)
PREGAME CHATTER: The Eagles of Lasker Northeast Academy torched their flying counterparts from Rocky Mount Academy last year. But like every other game Rocky Mount Academy has played this season, this week should be a completely different game than the previous two years.
WHAT IT MEANS: Rocky Mount Academy yearns for that first victory. It has been very close so far this season, but facing a winless Northeast Academy could be the chance it so desperately needs.
KEY MATCHUP: Rocky Mount Academy’s running game vs. Lasker Northeast’s defense. Fullback Adam Bayless will need help tonight, but how healthy running backs Linwood Jones and Chris Jenkins are will help determine which Eagles fly higher.
SOUTHWEST EDGECOMBE (1-3) AT KINSTON (3-1)
PREGAME CHATTER: Coach Raymond Cobb’s Cougars can’t take a breather now that nonconference play is finished. It just so happens that SouthWest Edgecombe opens Eastern Plains Conference play at the defending league champion. Kinston is ranked 6th in the latest N.C. AP 2-A poll. The Cougars lost yet another game they led in the fourth quarter last week (Rocky Mount High), while Kinston took a 65-18 beating at Havelock, which is the third-ranked team in the 3-A poll.
WHAT IT MEANS: With a good opponent, comes great opportunity. A Cougars win could put them in an early mix for the conference’s top spot.
KEY MATCHUP: SouthWest Edgecombe secondary vs. Kinston wide receiver George Jones. Jones finished with eight catches for 178 yards last week, and tonight will be the Cougars’ biggest test to date against a strong passing game.
– Jessie H. Nunery, Justin Hite & Nick Piotrowicz