Top seeds, undefeated teams highlight NCHSAA championship weekend

Every top seed advanced to the state title game

Mount Airy, pictured during its 35-17 playoff win over Eastern Randolph in Ramseur on Nov. 25, will face Tarboro in the NCHSAA 1A state football championship game on Saturday at NC State's Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh. (PJ Ward-Brown / North State Journal)

Cinderella will be in short supply at the North Carolina High School football championships this weekend.

The four title games taking place at NC State’s Carter-Finley Stadium and UNC’s Kenan Stadium on Friday and Saturday will feature the No. 1 seeds in all four divisions, a pair of No. 2 seeds and two No. 4 seeds. Four of the eight teams playing are undefeated, and the other four have one loss each.

Here’s a look at the title hopefuls that will be battling in the quartet of weekend games.

In Friday’s 4A championship in Chapel Hill, No. 1 Grimsley will face No. 2 New Bern in a battle of 15-0 teams.

New Bern is seeking its fourth state title and first since 2014. Grimsley is seeking its second title in three years after winning for the first time in the 2020-21 playoffs.

New Bern is led by running back Aronne Herring, who has rushed for 1,895 yards this season and scored 29 touchdowns, including a school-record seven — on 20 carries — in the Bears’ regional semifinal win over Rolesville. On defense, New Bern is led by FSU commit Keith Sampson, who has 18 sacks on the year.

Grimsley is led on defense by Georgia commit Jamaal Jarrett, a 6-foot-6, 340-pound lineman who has 18 tackles for loss on the year. The Whirlies also have a pair of junior playmakers on offense in receivers Alex Taylor and Terrell Anderson, both among the 14 best junior class players in the state according to 247Sports.

Anderson has 63 catches for 1,169 yards and 10 scores as well as a 98-yard kick return, while Taylor has 62 receptions for 957 yards and 12 touchdowns. Grimsley also features the No. 10 rusher in the state in Mitchell Summers, who has 1,961 yards and 21 touchdowns.

A Saturday triple-header starts in Chapel Hill at 11 a.m. with the 2A championships. No. 2 East Duplin faces No. 1 Reidsville in a matchup of two 14-1 teams. This is a matchup of the state title haves and have-nots. East Duplin is seeking its first crown in its sixth trip to the title game and first since 2017. Meanwhile, no team has won more state championships than Reidsville, which will be looking to add its 20th to the trophy case and fifth in the last seven seasons.

East Duplin is led by running back Avery Gaby, who has rushed for 2,004 yards and 40 scores this season. He’s also the team’s leading receiver with 267 yards and three touchdowns, and he also leads the team in sacks.

Reidsville has stormed through the playoffs, winning five games by a combined 224-60 score. The Rams have trailed exactly once, for about three minutes of game time, 10-7 to Providence Grove, before scoring 22 straight points. Receiver Que’Shyne “Flip” Flippen leads the offense with 878 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s also one of the state’s top punt returners. Freshman receiver/defensive back Dionte Neal leads the state with 12 interceptions and has scored 14 touchdowns via a combination of receiving, rushing and pick-six.

The action shifts to Carter-Finley for the final two games, starting with the 1A championship at 3 p.m. Top seed Tarboro faces No. 4 Mount Airy, with both teams carrying 14-1 records.

Tarboro is the lone returning champion to return to play for this year’s title, and the Vikings are in search of their 10th state championship, third straight and fifth in six years. Mount Airy seeks its eighth and first since 2008.

Tarboro lost to Herford County 56-54 in the second game of the season and hasn’t had a foe come within 20 points of them since. They’ve won four playoff games by a 162-41 combined score.

Running back Kamerin McDowell-Moore leads the Tarboro offense with 1,274 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. They don’t go to the air much, but McDowell-Moore also leads the Vikings with 201 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Omarion Lewis also leads the team in defensive interceptions, with four, from his free safety position.

Mount Airy has been on even more of a roll. Since a Week 2 loss to East Surry by two points, the Granite Bears have topped 50 points in nine of 13 games, winning by an average score of 54-6. That includes an astounding four-game stretch of shutout wins by 62, 66, 55 and 72 points. Mount Airy also has 58-0 and 49-0 wins on its record this year.

Junior running back Tyler Mason leads the Granite Bears with 1,863 yards and 44 touchdowns.

The final game is the 3A title game at 7 p.m. in Raleigh. No. 1 Northern Nash and No. 4 East Lincoln each put 15-0 records on the line.

Northern Nash has never won a state title and has just one appearance in a championship game — a 2002 loss. East Lincoln seeks its third title and first since 2014.

East Lincoln earned a spot in the title game with a 46-20 win over Kings Mountain last week, just the second time this season a team has reached double figures against the Mustangs’ defense. That defense is led by a pair of Division I recruits in linebacker Ben Cutter, a West Virginia commit, and corner Keandre Walker, committed to UVA. Cutter is second in the state with 182 tackles and also has four interceptions. Walker has three picks and also adds 818 receiving yards on offense.

Northern Nash is led by quarterback Keno Jones, who has 2,660 passing yards and has thrown for 38 touchdowns. The dual-threat added 831 rushing yards and 14 scores on the ground. With 1,044 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns, Randall King is his top target.