It’s playoff time, and in 1AA play, there’s a familiar face as the top seed.
The East Wilkes Cardinals pulled off their first undefeated season since 1981, and will host South Robeson Friday night in the opening round of the 1AA Football Championship. As the No. 1 overall seed, the Cardinals, if they’re to make a path to the title, will go through Ronda.
Go back seven weeks to when the Cardinals started the season 4-0 to complete non-conference play. Go back to six weeks before then. Head Coach J.K. Adkins said he thought the senior class would be the one to change the culture of East Wilkes. He didn’t say anything about making it this far, but he did say that he broke the season down in chapters.
Chapter one was to be undefeated leaving non-conference, and once that was completed, it was on to the next one. As far as playoffs are concerned, their chapter is yet to be written.
The Cardinals are projected to beat South Robeson, and if they do, they’ll play the winner of Starmount and Swain County. Starmount dominated Alleghany last weekend, and left the field believing it’d play the opening round at home. Instead, the Rams barely missed a home game, and will travel southwest of Asheville for their Friday night bout.
This game should be followed closely. They both enter with a 7-4 record overall, and near-identical points per game. Starmount’s advantage in the running game is clear, and if the offensive line can play solid like they’ve proved they can many times this season, then this game could go Starmount’s way. The X Factor on defense will likely be Starmount’s secondary. The Rams don’t have a strong passing attack, and with a running attack like they have, it’s clear why their focus is on the run. However, Swain County averages nearly double the passing yards per game.
Starmount played well during most of the game against East Wilkes, its only home loss this year, and that left Head Coach Scott Johnson feeling optimistic heading into the playoffs. It’s a testament to the adjustments they made after a blowout loss midway through the season.
“I think really since Wilkes Central (41-14 loss) we’ve been better. I don’t know how to describe that night, but since then we’ve gotten better and a little bit more focused and better practices,” Johnson said.
And finally, while East Wilkes is the No. 1 seed in the 1AA tournament, Forbush eked its way into the 2AA tournament, but are the last team to make it. The Falcons travel to Monroe on Friday night. Except for wins against Elkin and Cherryville, none of their wins were decided by more than seven points. According to MaxPreps, Monroe is 12th in the state, 485th in the country. Monroe has allowed only 42 points over the past seven games. Over the past seven games for Forbush, the Falcons have allowed 258.
East Wilkes 55 – South Robeson 7
Ultimately, I think the Cardinals are going to come out in the first half firing, and ready to put points on the board. By halftime, they could rest some of their players, knowing whoever comes out of the Starmount/Swain County game will be tough to beat, and they’ll need to be healthy.
Starmount 24 – Swain County 22
How they come off of the bus will be crucial for Starmount. If they can be strong on the run immediately, they can blow this team away late. Swain County is strong on the pass, and I think they will keep themselves in the game. Fans should expect two different styles of play, but with rain pounding North Carolina for the past week, I see the edge going to Starmount.
Monroe 56 – Forbush 0
This is like one of those 1 vs. 16 games in the NCAA tournament that fans hope for an upset, but to this date, has never come. Monroe is too strong on both sides of the ball, that if the Falcons can manage some points, that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.
All games are projected to have a 7:30 start, but consult the NCHSAA website for more details.
Ryan DeCosta can be reached at 336-258-4052 or via Twitter @rsdecosta.