Junious Smith: The football playoffs start today
This is what teams practiced for during the summer.
As Friday starts the first round of football playoff action in the NCHSAA, it’s a way to reflect upon the season. Although the trio of local teams have long postseason streaks — Ayden-Grifton qualified for the 17th consecutive time, Kinston in its 11th, Greene Central for the sixth — every year is different. The adversity changes and the competition is fierce, yet a spot has been earned again.
The Eastern Carolina Conference has five schools going to the playoffs — the aforementioned ones in 2A with Washington and West Craven qualifying in 2AA. South Lenoir finished one game shy and North Lenoir gave some teams scares despite going 0-10, solidifying how tough the conference is.
For three teams, it’s an opportunity to showcase the ECC on a bigger market, while for two others it’s another clash with the second round at stake.
Win or go home.
Here’s a list of games played by Eastern Carolina Conference teams. Each game is scheduled for Friday at 7:30 p.m.
NCHSAA 2A playoffs
No. 13 Ayden-Grifton (7-4) at No. 4 Kinston (10-0)
The Chargers average 28.5 ppg, while allowing 13.5 ppg; the Vikings average 31.1 ppg, while allowing 15.7 ppg
For the second straight year, Kinston hosts an ECC rival in the first round after last season’s bout with Greene Central. This season, Ayden-Grifton will come in upset from a 28-7 loss to Kinston on Oct. 13. The Vikings stopped the Chargers four times inside the 25, including a fourth-and-goal at the Kinston 1, and were able to break open a 7-7 game starting in the waning moments of the third quarter.
Both teams have been strong defensively all season and played to their strengths offensively in the first meeting. Ayden-Grifton ran for 267 yards, led by Ray Darden’s 144, while Kinston’s Kieren Hooker recorded 259 yards on nine completions.
The teams have played each other 13 times in a series that started in 1973; the Chargers lead the all-time series 8-5. The Chargers and Vikings met in the playoffs in 2015; Kinston defeated A-G, 18-14, on their way to the 2A state championship game.
No. 14 Greene Central (6-5) at No. 3 South Columbus (11-0)
The Rams average 24.2 ppg, while allowing 21.5 ppg; the Stallions average 45.2 ppg, while only allowing 14.9 ppg
On paper, this looks like a mismatch but Greene Central brings plenty to the table despite losing several key players to injuries. The Rams won their first playoff game since 2005 last year with a 28-6 victory over Kinston and although the task looks extremely daunting against a tough Stallions team, Greene Central has played its best football on the road, going 5-1 this year.
Also, the Rams lost a pair of double-digit halftime leads to undefeated teams this season, one to South Central in the season opener and the second to Kinston last week. If the Rams can sustain the intensity of the first half throughout for this contest, look out.
This is the first time Greene Central and South Columbus have ever met.
NCHSAA 2AA Playoffs
No. 13 Richlands (7-4) at No. 4 West Craven (6-5)
The Wildcats average 32.5 ppg, while allowing 19.1 ppg; the Eagles average 23.7 ppg, while allowing 18.9 ppg
A tough nonconference schedule which included Havelock, South Central and Greenville Conley (combined record of 29-3) should help the Eagles continue to fly high, but the Wildcats can’t be overlooked. Richlands averages 298.5 rushing yards per game is are paced by running backs Emanuel Whitehead (1,123 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Jalen Jefferson (804 yards, 14 touchdowns). Both teams have been solid defensively and can run — although West Craven has a more established passing attack — so it’s going to be a war in the trenches.
No. 15 Washington (4-6) at No. 2 Southwest Edgecombe (9-2)
The Pam Pack averages 27.3 ppg, while allowing 24.4 ppg; the Cougars are averaging 39.1 ppg, while allowing 11.9.
The Pam Pack were able to squeeze into the postseason after a 42-25 victory over North Lenoir in the final week of the season and have a shot to take down a titan in Pinetops. The Cougars are 6-0 at home and while the running game has been a vital part of the team’s success — Southwest Edgecombe averages 288.2 rushing yards per game led by Darntrell Council (809 yards, 10 touchdowns) — Jayden Lewis can keep defenses honest through the air (52 percent completion percentage, 1,045 yards, 12 touchdowns, six interceptions.)
Neuse News Editor Bryan Hanks contributed to this report.