That’s the Southeast side of the state’s forecast for 7:30 p.m. tonight, when the first round of the NCHSAA football playoffs kick off.
Any other week, one might opt to hunker into a cinema for a night of malt balls and mindless story arcs.
Not tonight. Tonight, there’s prep football to be watched. And for the faithful fans of area teams, lots of it.
Pretty spectacularly, five of the six county clubs — Lumberton, Purnell Swett, Fairmont, St. Pauls and Red Springs — are knocking helmets in the state playoffs.
I say spectacularly because back when the forecast was 80-degrees with blue skies in the days of early August, arguably the only state playoff shoe-ins were Fairmont, which returned nearly its entire reigning league-champ team, and Swett, senior-laden with all-county talent across the board. (And Swett ended up barely squeezing into the postseason with five wins.) Meanwhile, Lumberton and St. Pauls had yet to solidify a starting quarterback, Red Springs hadn’t been above .500 since 2005 and was on its third coach in three years and South Robeson was fresh off of a one-win season and lacking in numbers.
Three months later, with the Mustangs being the lone exception, all of the county’s prep football teams are still standing for postseason play. Two teams have consistently rolled over the competition all season (Fairmont and Red Springs), one is peaking at the right time (Swett), while the others are trying to snap out of season-ending funks (Lumberton and St. Pauls).
Two get the luxury of playing on their home turf — the Golden Tornadoes and Red Devils, hosting Wheatmore and Midway, respectively — while the rest scatter across the state. Lumberton hikes 100 miles to Cary, Swett trucks 131 miles to face Durham Hillside and St. Pauls treks 142 miles to play Cummings in Burlington.
It may not be Hollywood, but there are plenty of stars to be seen in these matchups.
On the opposing side, boasting the most jaw-dropping figures involved in Friday’s action is junior tailback Khris Fransis of reigning state-champ Hillside. While rushing for 100 yards in a game is often a milestone for some, it’s old hat for Fransis. He’s crossed the century-mark in every game this season, including 215- and 305-yard performances. And the kid is only 5-foot-9, a buck-80. As his highlight reel on YouTube shows, he’s all jukes and breakaway speed.
Meanwhile, the high-octane offenses of Fairmont and Red Springs are home to two of the top Three Rivers Conference Player of the Year contenders, Golden Tornadoes running back Alex Gilchrist (1,092 yards, 21 touchdowns) and Red Devils dual-threat quarterback Blake Greene (1,426, passing, 855 rushing, 34 total TDs). Not to mention their showstopping supporting casts on both sides of the ball.
Lumberton’s stout defense flexes tackle machine Darius Lesane (7 sacks, 6.3 tackles a game), St. Pauls has all-county wideout Antonio Henderson (27 grabs, 7 TDs) and Swett is equipped with do-it-all playmaker Juwan Jones (16 TDs), a threat to score anytime he touches the ball.
Most of these players, among their teammates, are seniors and will undoubtedly be leaving it all on the field one last time this weekend — and if they’re lucky enough, the weekends to follow.
Still leaning towards a Friday night flick?
Didn’t think so.
Sports Editor Kaleb Roedel can be reached at (910) 272-6111 or email@example.com.