Time to play
Southern Lee at Western Harnett - 7:30 p.m.
Last season - Western Harnett 27, Southern Lee 21
The Cavaliers and Eagles open their seasons tonight with the local rivalry, but it's no longer a Cape Fear Valley Conference rivalry. Western Harnett is a new member of the new 3A Two Rivers Conference.
Throughout the preseason and last week's scrimmages, Southern Lee head coach Don Simon, in his first year with the Cavaliers, has said his players are ahead of the curve as far as putting in the effort he expects and picking up on his systems, which includes a spread, no-huddle offense.
The Cavaliers are fielding a lot of changes, even while they have a fair number of returners from going 2-9 last season. Emond Caldwell, a 6-foot-2 junior, has moved from receiver to quarterback. Aaron Blockman, who was the Cavs' exciting, big-play quarterback, even in a number of the losses, has moved to wide receiver.
Both coaches are pleased with the work ethics they've seen.
"We're heads and tails ahead of where I thought we'd be at this point," Simon said following the Harnett County Jamboree last Friday.
"Our kids showed up every day during the summer," said Eagle head coach Larry Brock, who's entering his third season with the Eagles.
Brock says his squad's worked hard even while losing some returning players due to military families moving out of the area.
The Eagles are sporting a new offense as well. Brock started using a wing-T running attack in his first season, then went entirely to it last season. Brock still promises running and playing physically, but he's turning more to a shotgun, spread, multi-receiver attack.
Sophomore Austin Speck, an all-around athlete who played cornerback on the Eagle varsity last fall, is the new Eagle quarterback.
As a sign of the depth Brock's helped build, middle linebacker/guard Antonio Hernandez is the only starting two-way player for Western Harnett.
Southern Lee leads the all-time series 4-3.
Lee County at Spartanburg Christian (S.C.) - 7:30 p.m.
The Yellow Jackets are Spartanburg Christian's first opponent as a full varsity program. In one sense, the private school in S.C.'s 2A class picked a tough foe, as Lee County went 9-4 and reached the last 16 of the 4A state playoffs last fall. On the other hand, Lee County is a young team, too. Head coach Burton Cates says its the youngest team he's led. The Jackets lost 28 seniors, including all 11 offense starters and eight starters on defense.
The most experienced part of the Jacket team is the defensive front seven, Cates said, which can be a very good spot to build around. If an opponent can't score, it takes a lot of pressure off an offense trying to learn on the fly.
Unlike the Tri-Nine years, when the Jackets got three non-conference games to test some things out, the move to the 3A Cape Fear Valley means the Jackets have five non-conference games before league play.
Wake Christian at Chatham Central - 7:30 p.m.
Last season - Chatham Central 33, Wake Christian 7
Chatham Central improved by two victories last season. Doing the same this season would give the Bears a winning record and a good shot at advancing beyond the first round of the state playoffs, where they wound up last November.
Junior Rodney Van De Walker is the Bears' new quarterback. He has good help to give the ball to in the Bear backfield, primarily to senior Zack Burke.
The Bears get three straight home games before getting into Yadkin Valley contests the rest of the season, though next Friday versus Jordan-Matthews will be no tune-up for the Bears.
Providence Grove at Jordan-Matthews - 7:30 p.m.
Last season - Providence Grove 21, Jordan-Matthews 20
Also in the column of "rivalry, but no longer a conference rivalry," Providence Grove visits the Jets tonight.
Last September, Providence Grove stopped a Jet two-point play late in the fourth quarter to win by a point. Josh McSwain, who graduated, and Hunter Causey, who is back as a Jet senior, combined for 270 rushing yards.
Causey gained more than 2,200 rushing yards and scored 19 total touchdowns last season. While he'll still be the Jets' workhorse, head coach Marty Scotten wants to develop a few more backs and receivers to keep Causey fresher and defenses guessing some.
Providence Grove finished 5-7 last year. The Patriots were realigned to the PAC-6 Conference.
East Chapel Hill at Northwood - 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting (Aug. 20, 2010) - East Chapel Hill 20, Northwood 18
Northwood begins its first season as a 3A program by hosting 4A East Chapel Hill tonight in Pittsboro.
Junior Ti Pinnix returns as the Charger quarterback. He started their most of last season, finishing with 13 passing touchdowns and eight more rushing, he also turned in three interceptions in the Charger secondary. Kadarus Rone is the main Charger running back; he's also a junior who was a major contributor as a sophomore.
Northwood went 6-6 last season. East Chapel Hill was 5-6. The Chargers and Wildcats made the first round of their respective state playoffs.
East Montgomery at Union Pines - 7:30 p.m.
Last season - Union Pines 35, East Montgomery 34, OT
Union Pines prevailed over East Montgomery, with Dionte Williams intercepting a two-point conversion as the Eagles went for the win in overtime, last season in Cameron.
Kaleb Johnson, now running back/quarterback going into this season as a Viking senior, carried for 172 yards versus the Eagles last year.
Viking head coach Ryan Riggan believes this is the deepest team he's had in four years in Cameron, especially on the offensive line.
East Montgomery went 4-8 overall, 3-4 in the Yadkin Valley last season.
North Moore at Trinity - 7:30 p.m.
North Moore opens up under new head coach Mike Vogt in Trinity tonight against the 2A Bulldogs. Vogt is looking to change a program which has lost 31 straight games on the field and 27 straight counting a forfeit win in 2010.
Vogt comes to Robbins from being head coach at Orange City University High School in Florida.
Trinity was 1-10 last season.
Pinecrest at Overhills - 7:30 p.m.
Last season - Pinecrest 21, Overhills 7
Overhills left 3A and the Cape Fear Valley on a high note. The Jaguars were co-conference champs with Gray's Creek and Douglas Byrd, then reached the second round of the state playoffs, finishing 7-5 overall.
Now with head coach Rodney Barr taking over for retired coach Tim Karrs, the Jaguars move to 4A and the Mid-South Athletic.
Junior Tylo Rogers is the new starting quarterback for the Jaguars. He has plenty of experienced help around him at the skill positions.
During Overhills' 0-3 start to last season, the Patriots beat the Jaguars 21-7 in Southern Pines. The Patriot defense pitched a shutout in the victory. Graduated senior Dwayne Simpson, on two runs and a reception, scored all three Patriot touchdowns.
Pinecrest reached the opening round of the state playoffs last year. The Patriots face three road games in a row starting this slate.
Harnett Central at Apex - 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting (Aug. 20, 2010) - Harnett Central 54, Apex 31
Harnett Central opens its second chapter with Dave Thomas as the Trojan head coach on the road tonight.
Thomas coached the Trojans in 2000 and 2001, moved to and coached in Nashville, Tenn. for a decade, and is back in Angier. He believes his players have put lots of conditioning work in during the spring and summer. On the field, Thomas has put in an I formation offense.
Sophomore Taylor Smith is the starting quarterback. Junior Jay McNeill is the top returning running back.
The Trojans were 3-8 overall and 2-5 in the Greater Neuse River last season. Apex was 2-8 overall and 1-7 in the Tri-Nine.
Cape Fear at Triton - 7:30 p.m.
Triton is the three-time defending champion of the Eastern Carolina Conference. Technically, that run will end this season. Practically, with Triton, then main challengers Cleveland and South Johnston, all placed in the 3A Two Rivers Conference, this season begins with the same battles ahead.
The Hawks open up hosting Cape Fear, which went 2-9 last year. Senior Jeremy Leggett moves from second-string quarterback to starter for the Hawks. A healthy level of experience returns for the Hawk defense, which thrived on turnovers, and even scoring off those turnovers, last season.
Triton went 10-0 in the regular season last year before losing 33-0 to No. 8-seed D.H. Conley in the first round of states.