Football playoffs: Opening round breakdown
MONROE — A new season starts for high school football teams across the state when the first round of the state playoffs kick off tonight.
NIne teams from Union County are in the postseason, including four that are at home tonight.
Monroe, the champion of the Rocky River Conference, hosts R-S Central in the 2AA bracket.
Sun Valley and Weddington, which shared the Southern Carolina Conference title, are both on home turf tonight in the 3AA bracket.
The Spartans host A.C. Reynolds while Weddington takes on Ledford.
Union Academy, which is in the 1A bracket, plays at home against South Stanly.
The remaining five county teams will travel to the western part of the state tonight.
Forest Hills (at Smoky Mountain) and Parkwood (at Franklin) both have 201-mile bus rides in the first round, according to mapquest.com.
Piedmont (at Tuscola) has a 173-mile trip, while Cuthbertson (at Asheville) must travel 151 miles.
Porter Ridge (at Watauga) has the shortest ride (128 miles) of all the county teams on the road.
Here's a closer look at all nine playoff games involving UC teams tonight:
No. 11 Porter Ridge (7-4) at No. 6 Watauga (8-3)
Streaks and trends: The Pioneers started the season 6-0, but have lost three of their last five. The Pirates are averaging 44.0 ppg in their seven wins and 14.5 ppg in their four losses.
Noteworthy: The Pirates cruised to a 69-0 home win over Watauga in the first round of the 2012 playoffs. Porter Ridge senior LB Nick Vagnone has a team-high 110 tackles while senior end Donnie Warren leads the Pirates with eight sacks. PR junior QB Isaiah Hicklin, who missed last week's game with a concussion, is expected to play tonight.
What they're saying: "We beat them last year and we feel like we can still have the same outcome this time," said Pirates senior tailback Jerrick Robbins. "They're a pretty small team like us. They have a good defense and they like to run the ball a lot, so we'll focus on stopping that. We feel like we can make another run in the playoffs, but it's definitely going to be a lot tougher this year."
No. 13 A.C. Reynolds (7-4) at No. 4 Sun Valley (7-4)
Streaks and trends: Sun Valley is seeking a postseason victory for the fifth straight season. Reynolds has won four straight by an average of 41.0 points per game.
Noteworthy: The two teams last met in the first round of the 2011 4A playoffs, when Sun Valley cruised to a 52-23 victory. Spartans junior tailback Albert Funderburke finished the regular season with 2,023 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. SV senior receiver Courtland Stout leads the team with 20 catches for 321 yards and five TDs. Reynolds QB Levi Ledford is 142-of-222 for 2,068 yards with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
No. 10 Ledford (7-4) at No. 7 Weddington (9-2)
Streaks and trends: The Warriors, who are giving up 9.0 points per game, have held six of their 11 opponents to seven points or less. Ledford has won four straight, including the last two by a combined four points.
Noteworthy: Ledford will be without starting quarterback Bubba White, who suffered a broken arm in last week's win over North Forsyth. Panthers junior tailback Dalton Harris ran for 272 yards and four touchdowns on 37 carries last Friday. Weddington has three players with more than 100 tackles this season, including senior linebacker Jack Ryan (134), senior LB Evan Lloyd (107) and sophomore LB Myles Moore (105).
No. 15 Cuthbertson (4-7) at No. 2 Asheville (9-2)
Streaks and trends: The Cavaliers and Cougars had one common opponent (Ashbrook) during the regular season. Asheville suffered a 23-14 loss to the Green Wave while the Cavs dropped a 33-0 decision.
Noteworthy: Cuthbertson clinched a playoff berth after knocking off Piedmont in the regular season finale last Friday. Asheville has won seven straight and went unbeaten in the Mountain Athletic 3A/4A Conference. Cavs senior cornerback Kyler Vela has a team-high four interceptions. Cougars RB Cameron Ray has 887 yards and 16 TDs on the ground.
What they're saying: "They like to run the ball a lot," said Cavs junior linebacker Joe Walther of the Cougars. "They run it about 90 percent of the time and they've got a big O-line, so that'll be our main challenge. They're big and physical."
No. 10 Piedmont (7-4) at No. 7 Tuscola (8-3)
Streaks and trends: The Panthers are searching for their first postseason win since 2010, when they finished 11-2 and won the Rocky River Conference title. Tuscola is in the midst of its first winning season since 2010. The Mountaineers were a combined 7-16 in 2011 and 2012.
Noteworthy: Piedmont junior linebacker Dalton Craig has a team-best 115 tackles while teammate Colton Greene leads the team with four interceptions. Offensively, Panthers junior QB Cameron Tripp has thrown for 1,453 yards with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Tuscola will be without starting QB Woody Cornwell, who suffered a broken collarbone in last week's game. Mountaineers RB Bryce Myers has rushed for 1,672 yards and 21 touchdowns.
What they're saying: "We know going in that they're a mountain team so they've got some big boys, and they're going to be physical and try to hit us in the mouth early," said Panthers junior QB Cameron Tripp. "We definitely think we can win if we execute our game plan on both sides of the ball."
No. 15 R-S Central (5-5) at Monroe (9-2)
Streaks and trends: The Hilltoppers had a four-game winning streak snapped with last Friday's 44-20 loss to Burns. Monroe, which won the Rocky River Conference for the third straight year, has won six straight. The Redhawks have advanced to at least the state quarterfinals the last three seasons.
Noteworthy: The Redhawks are giving up 12.7 points per game in 2013. Senior linebacker Ashad Byrd leads the team with 104 tackles, including 11 for loss. R-S Central quarterback Jay'len Hollis threw two touchdown passes in last Friday's loss to Burns.
What they're saying: "They're a running team, but they'll try to catch you falling asleep and hit you with some passes," said MHS senior tailback Tre'Shun Wynn. "We can't take them lightly. They play in a really good conference with teams like Shelby and Crest, so we have to come out ready to play."
No. 9 Forest Hills (5-6) at No. 8 Smoky Mountain (7-4)
Streaks and trends: The Yellow Jackets have had a four-game winning streak and a four-game losing streak this season. Smoky Mountain, which has won four straight, finished tied for second in the Mountain Athletic Conference.
Noteworthy: Smoky Mountain's Chace Morgan has rushed for 1,718 yards and 13 touchdowns, while teammate Zechariah Carter has 50 catches for 1,049 yards and 12 scores. Forest Hills relies on senior QB Jared Lee, who has thrown for 1,054 yards and eight TDs while rushing for 1,021 yards and 16 TDs.
What they're saying: "Typically teams from the mountains are more run-oriented, but this team's pretty balanced," said Jackets coach John Lowery of Smoky Mountain. "They've got a 1,000-yard receiver and a 1,000-yard rusher so we've got to be ready for both. I'd like to think we're a little faster than them, so we hope that we can take advantage of our speed."
No. 16 Parkwood (5-6) at No. 1 Franklin (11-0)
Streaks and trends: Franklin, which is ranked third in the latest AP 2A state poll, has held its last four opponents to eight points or less. Parkwood, which is in the playoffs for the first time since 2008, ended a three-game skid with last Friday's win over Central Academy.
Noteworthy: Franklin tailback Jeremiah Young has 1,677 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. Rebels senior QB Grey Wyrick is 78-of-164 for 1,443 yards with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Parkwood is led defensively by junior linebacker Treven Parker, who has 126 tackles and two fumble recoveries.
No. 5 South Stanly (3-8) at No. 4 Union Academy (5-5)
Streaks and trends: South Stanly, which has lost three straight, has given up 54 or more points three times this season. Union Academy is seeking to win a playoff game for the third straight year.
Noteworthy: The two members of the Yadkin Valley Conference squared off on Sept. 27, when the Cardinals rolled to a 35-0 win. UA junior linebacker Zach Zupetz leads the team with 92 tackles. Cards junior receiver Logan Pautz has 33 catches for 597 yards and 10 touchdowns.