Raleigh, N.C. — The first year of the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s revamped football postseason system has produced no shortage of thrillers, surprise results, and big-time individual performances. Friday’s regional finals were no different, and now we know which eight teams will play for the four state titles up for grabs next weekend.
Here’s a recap of how everything played out on Friday and what storylines stood out.
#6 Cardinal Gibbons 36, #20 Rolesville 28: For the third time in as many seasons, the Crusaders will play for a state championship. Gibbons needed to navigate past one of the hottest teams in the state in order to get back to the title game, however, and it managed to slow down the Rams offense just enough to do just that. Rolesville entered Friday’s game averaging 56.25 points per game in the playoffs, but it put up only 13 points against the Gibbons defense before making things interesting with an Antonio Crim touchdown run with 3:36 left in the fourth quarter and a one-yard TD reception by Noah Rogers with 22 seconds left.
Not much separated the two teams at the half, but Gibbons turned a 15-13 halftime lead into a 23-point advantage with a 21-0 run that included a 39-yard touchdown run by running back Donovan Shepard, which gave Gibbons its largest lead of the night.
The Crusaders will be playing at N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium next Saturday, which is across the street from the school’s campus. The Crusaders’ opponents? Chambers, which is seeking its third straight state title and opened the season with a narrow win at Cardinal Gibbons.
#10 Chambers 35, #1 Hough 21: As the third quarter progressed in a battle between two Charlotte-area powers, it looked as if Chambers might miss out on a state title game for the first time since 2017. But down 21-7 against Hough, a common foe, the Cougars turned it on when they needed to the most and ended the game on a 28-0 run to clinch their spot in next week’s 4A title game against Gibbons, its week one opponent.
Up to that point, Hough had built a 21-7 advantage thanks to a pair of touchdown passes by star quarterback Tad Hudson and a score on a blocked punt.
But the Huskies never completely put Chambers away and the Cougars made them pay. Kevin Concepcion stepped up in a major way for Chambers, as he made it a one-score game with a 30-yard TD reception late in the third quarter before tying the game with just over two minutes remaining in the fourth on a one-yard run out of the Wildcat formation.
Chambers’ first lead of the night came with just 58 seconds remaining, with quarterback Anshon Camp finding Daylan Smothers for a short TD pass. Smothers, in the first quarter, scored Chambers’ first TD of the night on a 78-yard run. Hough had time for a game-tying drive, but Chambers put the game away and tacked on another score with a scoop-and-score, as its defense put a bow on a performance that got much better as the night went on.
#6 J.H. Rose 35, #13 Jacksonville 28: A testament to how strong the Big Carolina Conference was this year, neither J.H. Rose nor Jacksonville won the league but entered Friday’s clash in Greenville with a chance to move on to the 3A title game. In the end, the Rampants are the team moving on, as running back Michael Allen’s big night running the ball helped J.H. Rose get back to a state title game for the first time since 2015.
Allen, an N.C. State commit, finished with four touchdowns, including the game-winner, a 13-yard score with just under 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Jacksonville, which made a habit of winning from behind on the road this postseason, couldn’t quite do enough to secure a spot in what would have been its second 3A title game in the past four seasons.
Jacksonville’s Damon June and J.H. Rose’s Klavon Brown each scored first-quarter touchdowns before Allen’s first two scores of the night in the second quarter put the Rampants ahead 21-7. The visiting Cardinals fought back, however, and made it a 21-21 game by the time halftime rolled around thanks to a five-yard score by Christian Constant and June’s second score of the game, a nine-yard run.
The third quarter was a running-game exhibition, as Allen scored from 43 yards out, and Jacksonville quarterback Josh Benton tied the game with an eye-opening 81-yard TD run. But the Rampants had a bit more in the tank, as Allen gave J.H. Rose a 35-28 lead late in the third quarter, one it would not let up as the teams played a scoreless fourth.
#3 Dudley 38, #16 South Point 0: A week ago, Dudley was in control from start to finish in a 20-6 road win at Statesville. That was the case once again, as the Panthers returned home and won easily against South Point, which was coming off a road win at Crest.
Dudley made its intent clear on the game’s first play, with Mehki Wall returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown. From that point on, the rout was on, and Dudley running back RJ Baker was at the center of it. Baker scored three of his four rushing touchdowns in the first half, one of which was a 64-yard score. In addition to opening the scoring, Wall also closed it with an eight-yard touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers’ game against J.H. Rose in the 3A title game next week will make its first title-game appearance since winning the 2016 4A championship.
#10 Wallace-Rose Hill 34, #1 Princeton 25: In a battle of two Bulldogs that like to run the ball, Wallace-Rose Hill outlasted Princeton on the road to advance to a state title game for the first time since 2016. Princeton, in its first season since moving up from the 1A level, was seeking its first state-title appearance since 1979. Kanye Roberts, an Appalachian State commit, scored all five of Wallace-Rose Hill’s touchdowns in the win. Roberts’ third touchdown of the night, and also his longest at 74 yards, gave his team its largest lead of the game at 21-10 early on in the fourth quarter.
But Princeton’s running game remained strong, and a 22-yard TD run by Paul Edens made it 21-16 before Princeton converted the 2-point try to make it 21-18. After another score by Wallace-Rose Hill’s Roberts, Princeton answered back ,this time through Christan Perris, whose two-yard run made it 28-25 with just under a minute remaining in the game.
#1 Shelby 45, #2 East Surry 13: Following a first quarter that produced zero points between the two teams, Shelby scored 39 of its 45 points in the second quarter of what proved to be a comfortable win. As a result, the Golden Lions will now attempt to win a state title for the fourth time in six seasons.
Shelby struck first on a three-yard touchdown run by Drew Hollifield. Following a fumble return TD by Jaden Pierce, Marquis Adams scored from six yards out to make it 22-0, as the game began to get out of control for East Surry, which was hoping to reach the 2A title game after playing in three consecutive 1AA championship games. Shelby’s final touchdown of the first half came on a 49-yard TD run by Bricen Kee.
Following one last Shelby score, East Surry closed the game out with 13 points thanks to an 18-yard TD pass by Folger Boaz to Stephen Brantley and a 35-yard run by Anderson Badgett.
#1 Tarboro 22, #6 Pender 12: A close game from nearly start to finish, Tarboro managed to do enough to maneuver past Pender and reach a state title game for the fifth consecutive season. On a night where offense did not come easy, Tarboro took a 14-12 lead with just over four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter on a safety and then put the game away on its next possession with an 11-yard touchdown run by Tobias Joyner, followed by a 2-point conversion.
Tarboro led 12-6 at the halftime break, but the visiting Patriots tied the game at 12-12 early in the fourth quarter on Christian Hayes’ TD run.
Earlier on, Pender led 6-0 following the opening quarter, but Tarboro got back on track with a six-yard TD pass from OMarion Lewis to Joyner and a 14-yard TD run by Tremaine McDaniels.
#3 Mitchell 34, #4 Robbinsville 21: Mitchell never trailed and led by as many as 27 points in a performance that was more dominant than perhaps the final score would indicate. A week following a nail-biting 21-14 win at Mount Airy, the Mountaineers had much more room for error after a fast start that was all about quarterback Ty Turbyfill, who scored all five of his team’s touchdowns via the ground game.
Down 34-6 in the fourth quarter, Robbinsville tacked on 15 points late on a 14-yard connection between quarterback Dasan Gross and Kage Williams, and a 10-yard rush by Gross.
Mitchell’s upcoming matchup against Tarboro marks the Mountaineers’ second all-time appearance in a state title game, having lost the 1AA championship to Wallace-Rose Hill in 2015, 48-28.