High schools vie for state football titles

Sixteen teams will play across eight classes

The Wallace-Rose Hill Bulldogs won the state 1AA title last season — and are looking to do the same in 2A on Saturday. (Madeline Gray / North State Journal)

The North Carolina high school football season comes to an end Saturday with championship games across eight classes, all played in ACC football venues at Duke, NC State, UNC and Wake Forest. Here’s a preview of the eight games, featuring players who could be making an impact on future Saturdays in the college ranks.

4A: Scotland Scots vs. Harding University Rams
BB&T Field, Winston-Salem, 7 p.m.

The Scots (12-1) lost Georgia commit Zamir White, the nation’s top-ranked high school running back, to a torn ACL in their second round playoff win against Seventy-First, but haven’t missed a beat. Behind 300 yards rushing and six touchdowns from quarterback Warren Bell, Scotland scored 47 points in last week’s East Region final and it needed every one of them to beat previously unbeaten Hoggard in overtime.

Harding (13-1) also does most of its damage on the ground behind the running of sophomore Quavaris Crouch. Rated as one of the top players nationally in the class of 2019, Crouch has rushed for 1,802 yards and 21 touchdowns this season. Harding’s defense is led by cornerback Malik Dunlap, who is headed for NC State.

The championship game appearance is Harding’s first since 1987. While Scotland has one state title, in 2011, coach Richard Bailey is still looking for his first in his fifth championship game appearance with the Scots and Fayetteville Jack Britt.

4AA: Wake Forest Cougars vs. Mallard Creek Mavericks
BB&T Field, Winston-Salem, 3 p.m.

Wake Forest is the defending 4AA state champion. Coached by Reggie Lucas, the Cougars are making their fifth appearance in the title game, all since 2010.

A pair of Tar Heels’ commitments lead the Cougars. Three-star running back Devon Lawrence is the No. 19 recruit in the state, according to the 247Sports Composite Index. He’s rushed for 1,350 yards and 29 touchdowns this year. Three-star safety Javon Terry is No. 49 in the state. He has four interceptions and 17 pass defenses.

Mallard Creek, led by coach Mike Palmieri, is making its fourth appearance in the state title game and has never lost one. The Mavs feature plenty of college prospects, including three-star defensive tackle Jordan Davis, the No. 23 player in the state.

3A: Havelock Rams vs. Charlotte Catholic Cougars
Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, 3 p.m.

Perennial powerhouse Havelock (14-1) rolls into its fifth state championship game since 2011 with a high-powered offense averaging 50.5 points in its four playoff wins under first-year Caleb King. Quarterback Nick Sabdo has thrown for 4,033 yards and 46 touchdowns with only six interceptions behind an offensive line anchored by UNC commit Avery Jones. Defensively, the Rams have five players with 100 or more tackles, including highly rated linebacker Tyiyon Johnson.

Defense is the Cougars’ strong suit, having held nine of their 15 opponents to seven or fewer points on the way to an undefeated season. Offensively, quarterback Christopher Walton has passed for 1,508 yards and 23 touchdowns while Milan Howard has run for 1,848 yards and 26 scores.

3AA:  New Hanover Wildcats vs. A.C. Reynolds Rockets
Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, 7 p.m.

Coached by Earl Smith, 14-1 New Hanover is in its first modern-day championship game. The Wildcats won a pair of state titles prior to that however, in 1927 and 1928. New Hanover is led by senior all-purpose back Wiz Vaughn, an uncommitted two-star recruit who has had interest from App State. Vaughn has rushed for 14 touchdowns and caught 12.

Coached by Shane Laws, A.C. Reynolds is making its fifth appearance in the title game and first since 2011. The Rockets have won three state titles. Quarterback Alex Flinn won the NFA national skills competition over the summer and has passed for 3,743 yards.

2A:  Wallace-Rose Hill Bulldogs vs. Reidsville Rams
Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, 7 p.m.

This is a rare battle of two defending state champions, with the Bulldogs (13-1) having won the last three 1AA titles before moving up in classification this year and the Rams (15-0) having won the 2A crown in 2016. Reidsville has won a state record 16 championships and is currently on a 31-game winning streak. Its primary offensive weapon is senior quarterback Titus Jones, who has completed 67 percent of his passes for better than 2,400 yards and 36 touchdowns.

The Bulldogs, led by new coach Kevin Motsinger, feature a potent Wing-T attack built around the running back duo of Javonte Williams and Desmond Newkirk, who between them have rushed for 3,300 yards this season.

2AA:  East Duplin Panthers vs. Hibriten Panthers
Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, 3 p.m.

This is the first state title game for both teams. Coached by Battle Holley, East Duplin is 15-0 and East Central 2A Conference champions for the third straight year. East Duplin has a powerful running game with four players gaining at least 800 yards this season.

Hibriten is coached by Clay Lewis and won the Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference. At 15-0, the Panthers haven’t lost a regular-season game in two years. Hilbriten has a stifling defense, allowing just 4.4 points per game with four shutouts and no team managing more than seven points against them since Oct. 20.

1A:  North Duplin Rebels vs. Cherokee Braves
Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, noon

The top-seeded Rebels (14-0) have earned their first title game appearance since 2007 behind the passing and running of option quarterback William Archer, who rushed for a pair of touchdowns in his team’s 12-6 East Region final win against Plymouth. Archer has combined with running backs Kenny Sheppard and Colby Bass to gain more than 3,100 yards on the ground this season.

In contrast to their opponent, the Braves (13-1) do much of their offensive damage through the air, with quarterback Tye Mintz averaging 256 yards passing while also leading the team in rushing. Cherokee is making its first state final appearance since 1978 and is seeking its first 1A championship.

1AA:  Tarboro Vikings vs. Mount Airy Granite Bears
Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, 4 p.m.

Led by head coach Jeff Craddock, Tarboro is in its seventh state championship game. Tarboro has won four titles, including three straight from 2009 to 2011, when current L.A. Ram Todd Gurley was leading the Vikings. Tarboro is led by quarterback/cornerback Tae Randolph, who has thrown just two interceptions on the year and caught one on defense.

Coached by Kelly Holder, Mount Airy has won a total of seven state titles, five prior to 1950. Ian Holder has passed and run for 1,000 yards, while sophomore Johnathan Smith has run for 1,477 yards.