Last week decided many of the championship questions in both the Northwest 1A Conference and the Western Piedmont Athletic Conference in favor of local teams.
Mount Airy locked up no worse than a share of the NW1A title with its 42-14 victory over Walkertown, while over in Dobson, Surry Central made good on coach Monty Southern’s preseason prediction that his team would be a threat to win the WPAC this season, defeating Forbush 41-25 to grab the No. 1 spot in its conference.
The only question left for those teams is whether or not their championships will be of the outright variety. Mount Airy (10-0, 5-0) is hosting East Surry (7-3, 4-1), and the Cardinals would like nothing to better than to make a statement in the last regular-season game of what was termed a rebuilding year. A win for the Granite Bears, who are ranked No. 3 in the NCPreps.com 1A Baker’s Dozen, means they will win the crown outright and could also be the No. 1 overall seed in either the 1A or 1AA West Regional, with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
An East Surry upset would mean that the Cardinals, Bears, and Walkertown would end in a flat-footed three-way tie for first place, which would create all sorts of complications for postseason seeding. With a victory over Mount Airy, the Cardinals would claim a share of a conference title that no one gave them any shot at defending when the season started.
Mount Airy will be a heavy favorite, but Bears coach Kelly Holder knows that records go out the window in a rivalry game.
“We know that Joey (Ray) is back, and he’s a really good player, and it doesn’t matter what the records are, it’s going to be a dogfight,” said Holder, referring to East Surry’s junior running back who missed a few games with injury. “Our kids know that. I don’t think there’s going to be much of a letup.”
Ray, who has 989 yards rushing in just seven games this season, returned from a two-week layoff and had 122 yards on 16 carries against Bishop McGuinness on Oct. 21. The Cardinals received a forfeit from North Stokes last week and come into the contest with a week off. In fact, East Surry coach David Diamont was a guest of honor at Wallace Shelton Stadium last week, as a former Bears’ coach. He won’t get the same welcome on Friday night, as he tries to spoil Mount Airy’s perfect season.
For the Golden Eagles, whose only loss came at the hands of Mount Airy, the top playoff seed is already secured. Even if Central gets upset in Friday’s regular-season finale at West Stokes (6-4, 2-2), it will be no worse than co-champions with Carver and will be the top team, thanks to the Eagles’ 7-6 win over the Yellowjackets on Oct. 7. However, because Central’s loss came in non-conference play, this setback can be dropped from its record for postseason seeding purposes. If the Golden Eagles finish at 10-1, they will be treated as a 10-0 team for seeding purposes, putting the top overall seed and home-field advantage within their grasp.
Surry Central re-entered the Baker’s Dozen this week as the state’s 12th-ranked 2A team. The Eagles had been ranked earlier this season, but dropped into the Honorable Mention category after losing to Mount Airy. A five-game winning streak since that game, which Southern described as a “clunker” by both the coaches and the team, has won the WPAC championship for the Golden Eagles and moved them back into the rankings.
With a win, Brian Simmons of NCPreps projects Central as the No. 2 seed in the 2A Midwest pod, with home-field advantage until at least the third round of the playoffs. However, the Eagles have to beat West Stokes first. He projects that both Mount Airy and East Surry will be in the 1AA (‘big’ 1A) field, that the Bears will win on Friday, and that they will be the top overall seed in the West pod, while East Surry will be the No. 7 seed in the Midwest pod and open on the road.
Perhaps no team has more at stake on Friday night than North Surry, however. For all intents and purposes, the playoffs begin this week in East Bend for the Greyhounds.
North Surry began the 2016 season with aspirations of winning the WPAC itself, and might have made a strong run at doing so if they had been healthy all season and had the advantage of hosting Carver, like Surry Central did, instead of having to play them in Winston-Salem, where the Yellowjackets are nearly unbeatable.
Despite all of that, and losing games they might not have with a full roster, the Hounds (4-6, 2-2) are right where they were a year ago. A win over Forbush in the regular-season finale makes North Surry the outright third-place team in the WPAC and sends it to the state playoffs. Simmons projects the Hounds as the No. 8 2AA Midwest team. However, North Surry must win, because the at-large field in the 2AA is too strong for a four-win team to qualify, and extremely difficult even for a five-win team unless it’s a top-three team in its league.
Complicating matters is the fact that Forbush is 5-5, 1-3 WPAC, and the Falcons just as desperately need a win in order to make it back to the playoffs. When the teams played a year ago, North was playing for the No. 3 spot and an automatic bid, which they got by holding on to beat Forbush 36-29, stopping the Falcons’ last-second Hail Mary pass at the North 5-yard line. However, they still got in as an at-large team at 5-6. Simmons doesn’t think that record would get Forbush into the field this year.
In effect, this is the start of the playoffs for both the Hounds and the Falcons, and the loser starts basketball practice on Monday.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.