Unless noted, all kickoffs are at 7:30 p.m.
No. 4 REYNOLDS (9-2) at No. 3 PORTER RIDGE (10-1)
How they got here: Reynolds beat No. 10 Alexander Central, 63-35; Porter Ridge beat No. 14 Watauga, 69-0.
The winner plays: No. 8 Sun Valley (8-3) or No. 1 South Caldwell (12-0).
Notes: Partly by circumstance and partly by design, Reynolds is playing its best football at just the right time. The Mountain Athletic Conference 4-A champions have won five consecutive games, and an offense led by Levi Ledford (1,851 yards and 13 touchdowns with six interceptions) and Jave Jones (1,451 yards, 24 touchdowns) put up a season-high 63 points last Friday. Ledford is closing in on a potential 2,000-yard season and tied with Jones for the team lead in touchdowns (26). His favorite receivers are Caelan Rhinehardt (39 receptions for 487 yards and five touchdowns), Jacob Cagle (27 receptions for 353 yards and two touchdowns) and C.J. Allen (27 receptions for 289 yards). Defensively, a senior-laden collection of Rockets has rarely been this healthy. That group includes John Nick Setterlind (9.8), Tavien Morgan (7.7), Lavell Dixon (6.3) and Ryan McLaughlin (6.3). Both sides of the ball will need to work in conjunction and more for Reynolds tonight at Porter Ridge. The Rockets will feel like they have crossed several oceans once the 2-hour, 40-minute drive to the Pirates’ campus is complete. Porter Ridge was 10th in the season’s final Associated Press 4-A rankings and has a roster that includes Shrine Bowl kicker Matt Wogan and 1,000-yard rusher Chris Duffy. These two teams last met in the 2010 playoffs with Porter Ridge earning a 24-21 win in Buncombe County.
Pick: Reynolds by 1.
No. 6 ERWIN (8-3) at No. 3 STATESVILLE (11-1)
How they got here: Erwin beat No. 12 Asheville, 41-34; Statesville beat No. 15 Enka, 62-12.
The winner plays: No. 7 Shelby Crest (10-2) or No. 1 South Point (11-0).
Notes: How many WNC football teams have the confidence to go to an empty backfield for an extended amount of time? Trick question, because not many have a quarterback who can run the show like Erwin junior Austin Brown (2,586 yards and 26 touchdowns with eight interceptions). Brown passed for 358 yards and five touchdowns in last Friday’s comeback win over Asheville High and is the latest Citizen-Times/WNC Player of the Week. The Warriors went to a five-receiver, no running back-set last Friday after junior Kelman Simpson (1,304 yards, 16 touchdowns) went down with a sprained ankle. Simpson is probable for tonight. Brown continues to lead WNC in passing thanks largely to the area’s leading receiver, Jonathan Allen (82 receptions for 1,169 yards and 14 touchdowns), as well as Seth Carter (35 receptions for 448 yards and four touchdowns) and Tyler Sullins (33 receptions for 483 yards and eight touchdowns). Sullins made the game-winning reception last Friday, while the defense of Darius Lytle (9.2 tackles a game), Josh McDevitt (6.2) and Alfredo Maldonado (5.9) held Asheville down, allowing Erwin to score 27 unanswered points. Statesville should be as tough a challenge as the Mountain Athletic Conference 3-A champions have encountered all season. Greyhounds quarterback Carlos Parker and linebacker Tristan Mumford are Shrine Bowl selections. The North Piedmont Conference champions got 161 rushing yards and three touchdowns from Treon Allison in last Friday’s blowout of Enka.
Pick: Statesville by 7.
No. 4 FREEDOM (10-2) at No. 1 EAST HENDERSON (11-1)
How they got here: Freedom beat No. 6 Franklin, 42-14; East Henderson beat No. 14 Hunter Huss, 44-21.
The winner plays: No. 3 Hickory (8-4) or No. 2 Burns (9-3).
Notes: Pick your poison when it comes to defending the East Henderson offense. There is no painless choice. Multi-dimensional quarterback Seth Owen (1,915 passing yards, 709 rushing yards, 37 combined touchdowns) has thrown the ball 169 times and only two have resulted in an interception. Owen hands off to a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Matt Bishop (1,286 yards, 16 touchdowns) and Logan Jones (1,005 yards, 12 touchdowns). The top receivers for the WNC Athletic Conference champions are Steffon Hill (51 receptions for 842 yards and six touchdowns), Tyler Sexton (30 receptions for 714 yards and 16 touchdowns) and Brandon Dorn (19 receptions for 184 yards and two touchdowns). Freedom’s defense may be up to the challenge — the Patriots have not allowed more than 20 points in a game since August. On the other side of the ball, senior David Burgess set a school record for single-season rushing (2,386 yards) last Friday. Freedom scored on its first six possessions to overwhelm Franklin, so a good start is critical for Jay Spellmon (60 tackles) and the East Henderson defense.
Pick: East Henderson by 1.
No. 7 SOUTH IREDELL (10-2) at No. 6 PISGAH (6-6)
How they got here: Pisgah beat No. 15 Smoky Mountain, 49-28; South Iredell beat No. 14 West Lincoln, 69-15.
The winner plays: No. 10 Bandys (8-4) or No. 3 Newton-Conover (9-3).
Notes: It was a calculated risk, but a risk nonetheless. Pisgah still has a handful of offensive packages designed for senior Josh Noland (869 rushing yards, 813 passing yards, 24 combined touchdowns). But their starting quarterback for the past three seasons ceded the spot to junior McKinley Brown (666 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions) in the middle of the season. Noland has still been highly-effective and had a team-high two touchdowns last Friday. Five different Black Bears scored touchdowns, including top receiver Jesse Anderson (46 receptions for 554 yards and five touchdowns) in Pisgah’s second win of the season over Smoky Mountain. He and the Black Bears will have their paws full tonight. University of Virginia linebacker recruit LaChaston Smith ran for 191 yards and a school-record seven touchdowns for South Iredell last Friday. Smith was standing in for starting quarterback Davin King, who dressed out last Friday for the two-time defending Catawba Valley Athletic Conference champions but was held out as a precaution for a leg injury the week before. Smith also broke his leg in August.
Pick: South Iredell by 7.
No. 9 POLK COUNTY (9-3) at No. 5 SHELBY (7-5)
How they got here: Polk County beat No. 14 East Rutherford, 23-13; Shelby beat No. 15 Chase, 10-7.
The winner plays: No. 13 Owen (6-6) or No. 3 Madison (11-1).
Notes: Nothing is a sure thing in the NCHSAA football playoffs. But Shelby comes awfully close. The Golden Lions have lived up to their name with an 11-0 record against WNC teams in postseason games since 2000. Can Alec Philpott (1,422 passing yards, 1,227 rushing yards, 31 combined touchdowns) and Polk County avoid becoming a statistic tonight in Cleveland County? The Wolverines and Lucas Williams (103 tackles) are bidding for double-digit wins for the third straight season. Coleman Bradley (93 tackles), Reese Schlabach (76), Jordan Smith (69) and Chase McMurray (59) are also defensive leaders. Shelby offensive lineman Eric McCauley is a Shrine Bowl selection and protects Spencer Clark, who has thrown for more than 1,500 yards. The Golden Lions won their last state championships in 2005 and 2006.
Pick: Shelby by 1.
No. 10 WEST WILKES (5-6) at No. 1 SWAIN COUNTY (12-0)
How they got here: West Wilkes beat No. 12 Cherryville, 19-14; Swain County beat No. 16 East Wilkes, 68-22.
The winner plays: No. 4 Lake Norman Charter (10-1) or No. 3 Hendersonville (11-1).
Notes: Will he or won’t he? The playing status of leading rusher Garrett Lane (888 yards, 16 touchdowns) is about the only question swirling around Swain County. The Maroon Devils have been largely injury-free during a school record 24-game winning streak, but Lane sprained an ankle two weeks ago at Murphy and has not played since. In his absence, fellow senior Greg Tisho (46 receptions for 1,025 yards and 15 touchdowns) has become just the second receiver in school history to have a 1,000-yard season. Matthew Maennle (53 receptions for 958 yards and 16 touchdowns) is not far behind. The quarterback delivering the ball to both of them is junior Raymius Smith (1,985 yards and 30 touchdowns with seven interceptions). Smith has more than 3,500 career yards after passing for 116 last Friday. Swain County beat West Wilkes, 28-6, en route to the NCHSAA 1-AA championship in 2011. But the Maroon Devils were ahead, 8-6, at halftime and the visiting Black Hawks have 18 seniors back from last season.
Pick: Swain County by 21.
No. 4 LAKE NORMAN CHARTER (10-1) at No. 3 HENDERSONVILLE (11-1)
How they got here: Lake Norman Charter beat No. 13 Avery County, 48-0; Hendersonville beat No. 14 North Wilkes, 61-13.
The winner plays: No. 10 West Wilkes (5-6) or No. 1 Swain County (12-0).
Notes: Hendersonville senior Desean Jackson shares his name with a flamboyant receiver for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. But there is no confusion when the Bearcats back is shooting through running lanes or shrugging off arm tackles. Jackson (1,986 yards, 26 touchdowns) has emerged as the top offensive weapon for the Western Highlands Conference champions. He ranks second in tackles (5.6 per game) to Landon Blythe (7.0). Grant Rivers (1,619 yards and 15 touchdowns with seven interceptions) remains the WHC’s top passer thanks in large part to Shrine Bowl receiver D.J. Wilson (33 receptions for 862 yards and 10 touchdowns). Lake Norman Charter and Michael Dorsainvil (1,621 yards and 23 touchdowns with two interceptions) have averaged 49.5 points a game. When the ball is in the air, Dorsainvil’s most likely targets are Alex Scearce (33 receptions for 860 yards and 12 touchdowns) and Petey Fabian (17 receptions for 264 yards and five touchdowns). Tripp Smith (950 yards, 10 touchdowns) has balanced things out on the ground.
Pick: Hendersonville by 3.
No. 8 ROSMAN (6-6) at No. 2 ELKIN (7-4)
How they got here: Rosman beat No. 7 Thomas Jefferson, 26-14; Elkin beat No. 15 Alleghany, 44-6.
The winner plays: No. 5 Robbinsville (9-3) or No. 3 Murphy (10-2).
Pick: In a results-oriented world, Freddie Whitman is getting them at Rosman. The Tigers have won 15 games since Whitman became their coach in 2010, compared to a 4-30 record in the three years under his predecessor (Brian Bailey). Furthermore, standouts like Duran Scruggs (1,351 yards, 17 touchdowns), Blaise McCall (592 yards, eight touchdowns) and Josh Diaz (54 tackles) gave Rosman its first back-to-back seasons with a playoff win in more than a decade last Friday. Caleb Rice matched Scruggs with two rushing touchdowns in last Friday’s win at Thomas Jefferson. Elkin is back in the postseason for the first time since 2010. But the Bucking Elks are only six years removed from their last state championship. Jamiles Hayes ran for a team-high four touchdowns in last week’s playoff opener.
Pick: Elkin by 7.
No. 5 ROBBINSVILLE (9-3) at No. 3 MURPHY (10-2)
How they got here: Robbinsville beat No. 10 Hayesville, 12-8; Murphy beat No. 14 Cherokee, 69-20.
The winner plays: No. 8 Rosman (6-6) or No. 2 Elkin (7-4).
Notes: Here we go again, again and again. Tonight is Murphy’s 12th playoff game in three years and five of them have been SMC rematches. The defending 1-A state champions and Michael Curry (722 yards and 10 touchdowns with four interceptions) beat Robbinsville, 55-21, on Sept. 28 in Graham County. Surprisingly, the Bulldogs still do not have a 1,000-yard offensive performer, but Gage Cox (933 yards, 13 touchdowns) and James Posey (891 yards, 20 touchdowns) are within striking distance. Robbinsville and Dakota Crisp (1,006 yards and 10 touchdowns with eight interceptions) are a much-improved team. The Black Knights have already won four more games than last season (five), with Crisp primarily spreading out his passes to Chris Orr (15 receptions for 351 yards and three touchdowns) and Alex Walsh (10 receptions for 175 yards and one touchdown). Robbinsville’s leading rushers are Austin Hill (834 yards, seven touchdowns) and Cruz Galaviz (792 yards, eight touchdowns). The Black Knights and top tacklers Spencer McCoy (102) and Skyler Matheson (89) have not beaten Murphy since 2004.
Pick: Murphy by 14.
No. 4 NORTH RALEIGH CHRISTIAN (9-2) at No. 1 CHRIST SCHOOL (11-0), 6 p.m.
How they got here: North Raleigh Christian beat No. 5 Hickory Grove, 31-12; Christ School beat Wake Christian, 75-6.
The winner plays: No. 3 Harrells Christian (9-2) or No. 2 Davidson Day (9-2).
Notes: Can the Greenies go all the way? Confidence is certainly not lacking in Christ School stars like Charles Beale (1,302 yards, 19 touchdowns) over their prospects for the future. The Greenies and Christian Jewkes (1,248 yards and 18 touchdowns with five interceptions) have outscored opponents, 476-78, en route to setting a single-season record for wins (12). They are 6-0 at Fayssoux Field leading into tonight’s NCISAA Division II semifinal game. Christ School has never won a state championship in football, but was a state runner-up in 1976 and 1977. Beale was recently named the Carolina Piedmont Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year and joined on the All-CPFC team by eight other Greenies – Jack Bonds, Stephan Bridges, Dalton Friel, Malik Johnson, Ellis Pace, Jack Pace, Marshall Ranson and Matt Seely. Of that group, only Beale is a senior. Mark Moroz, who is 19-2 in two seasons, is the CPFC Coach of the Year. North Raleigh senior John Cook (1,990 yards and 31 touchdowns with three interceptions) will test Christ School’s secondary by throwing to receivers like Charlie Davisson (35 receptions for 734 yards and 12 touchdowns), Daniel Rose (29 receptions and five touchdowns) and Cody Sterrett (29 receptions and three touchdowns).
Pick: Christ School by 7.