By CHRIS HOBBS
A brief look at Friday’s varsity football games involving teams from the South Fork 2A, Northwestern Foothills 2A and Northwestern 3A-4A:
E. Lincoln, N. Lincoln battle for first;
Hickory-Watauga game also for lead
SOUTH FORK 2A
EAST LINCOLN (6-0, 2-0) at NORTH LINCOLN (5-1, 2-0), 7:30 p.m.
Tonight’s winner goes home either alone in first place or tied for the top spot in the South Fork 2A based on the outcome of county neighbor West Lincoln at Newton-Conover.
East Lincoln hasn’t played the real “meat” of its schedule yet – its six wins are against teams that are a combined 7-28 – so this game will help better gauge what the Mustangs capable of.
By beating Lincolnton last Friday, the Mustangs have won at least six games in 15 straight seasons.
WEST LINCOLN (5-1, 1-1) at NEWTON-CONOVER (4-2, 2-0), 7:30 p.m.
To stay in the thick of the South Fork 2A race – where more than one league loss may well eliminate a team from title contention – West Lincoln will need to do something it has rarely done in Gurley Stadium – win.
The Rebels are 1-11 at Newton-Conover with only one (48-19 in 2013) of their four wins in the series being played in Newton.
West Lincoln has beat Newton-Conover two of the last three seasons.
BANDYS (3-3, 0-2) at LINCOLNTON (2-4, 0-2), 7:30 p.m.
Bandys hopes to stop a three-game skid with a road victory over the Wolves, and without a victory or something positive to turn things around soon the Trojans could easily miss the state playoffs.
Bandys is not playing well of late and may be better on paper and by record than Lincolnton … but that doesn’t mean much in the South Fork 2A.
LAKE NORMAN CHARTER (1-5, 0-2) at MAIDEN (4-2, 1-1), 7:30 p.m.
Maiden has beat the Knights handily in their only two other match-ups – 64-14 at Maiden in 2017 and 39-14 in Huntersville last season.
The Blue Devils need a win to have a reasonable chance to stay in contention for the conference title as they also give chase to their 24th consecutive bid into the state playoffs.
It will be interesting to see how Maiden rebounds after falling 28-27 at West Lincoln and missing a shot at being 2-0 in the league and sharing the early lead in the title chase.
NORTHWESTERN FOOTHILLS 2A
DRAUGHN (5-2, 3-0) at
BUNKER HILL (2-4, 1-1), 7:30 p.m.
An exciting time for Draughn football continues in Claremont tonight as the Wildcats go for their sixth straight win, best in school history.
The Wildcats have gone from a team looking to make everything fit in the first two games to hitting on all cylinders with QB Braxton Cox probably playing his way to Northwestern Foothills 2A Player of the Year.
Bunker Hill is improved from a year ago and is coming off a field goal in the final seconds that netted a win at Foard.
Draughn has the momentum but don’t be stunned to see the Bears give the Wildcats a battle and maybe even end that five-game win streak if their secondary can withstand what Cox can do (he had 395 passing yards, 442 in total offense) when Bunker Hill won 37-20 last season at Draughn.
EAST BURKE (2-4, 1-1) at
PATTON (1-5, 0-2), 7:30 p.m.
These Burke County rivals have played 10 times and they’ve each won five times. But Patton has won the last two in the series at its place, three straight overall and four of the last six.
All three of the key players in Patton’s 22-point win in Icard last year return – RB Josh Moore for the Cavs and QB Weston Fleming and RB Bryce Ratliff for the Panthers.
FRED T. FOARD (1-6, 1-2) at
HIBRITEN (5-1, 2-0), 7:30 p.m.
Hibriten goes for its fifth straight win and 10th in the last 11 games in the series while trying to stay in contention for the conference title.
The Panthers have won six straight on their field over the Tigers, who have not won in Lenoir since 2005.
Hibriten is 49-3 in its last 52 games and Foard is 16-16 in its last 32.
This will be Game No. 99 for Ryan Gettys as head coach for the Tigers in two tenures.
WEST CALDWELL (0-6, 0-2) at
WEST IREDELL (3-3, 1-1), 7:30 p.m.
In a battle of Warriors, those from West Caldwell are still vying to get Mike Biggerstaff the first victory of his second tenure as head coach.
West Caldwell needs a win to avoid the fifth winless varsity football season in school history.
West Iredell has some of the league’s top skill position players – RB Emmanuel Long and QB Eli Kitchens among them – but the Warriors are 13-16 in their last 29 games and they have not posted winning record since 2011.
HICKORY (2-5, 2-0) at
WATAUGA (6-1, 2-0), 7:30 p.m.
Anyone who would have placed a bet in August on 100-to-1 odds that Hickory would be playing for first place tonight would be rich.
Despite injuries to three different QBs and playing arguably one of the area’s toughest non-league schedules, the Red Tornadoes have gutted it out and beat McDowell and then surprised Freedom to get this shot at the conference lead.
HHS got starting QB Jason Martin back last week but he was re-injured and is out for the season.
Red Tornadoes RB Cody Young has played Young-like all season long and gives HHS a viable scoring threat.
The toughest part about playing Watauga is the Pioneers have so many different scorers/threats to deal with, primarily QB Anderson Castle and RB Jaiden Bond.
Watauga should be heavily favored … but that was the thought last Friday when Freedom came to Barger Stadium and HHS won 23-22.
ALEXANDER CENTRAL (4-2, 0-1) at
FREEDOM (4-3, 1-1), 7:30 p.m.
A very interesting matchup – always is – but the timing is interesting as well after the Cougars got spanked at home 42-10 by Watauga last Friday and the Patriots were stung 23-22 by Hickory at Hickory.
They’ve played 28 times since 1985 and Freedom has won 23 times, including four of the last five and 15 of the last 17 in the series.
QB Jayden Birchfield left the HHS game with an injury, and the Patriots aren’t the same team without him in the lineup.
Alexander Central has gone 1-13 in Morganton — winning there in 2017 – and must win there tonight if it wants to realistically have a chance at a conference title.
SOUTH CALDWELL (3-3, 0-1) at
McDOWELL (1-5, 0-2), 7:30 p.m.
As the only two 4A schools in the league, this game pretty much decides who gets into the state 4A playoff bracket.
South Caldwell, batting injuries, has had two weeks go get ready for this game. The Spartans have won their last four trips to Marion after having lost six straight at McDowell before that.
The Spartans head to Marion having gone 9-31 in their last 40 games.
The Titans appear to be headed to their seventh straight losing record and to a losing mark for the 17th of the last 18 seasons.
ST. STEPHENS (3-3) at
NORTH IREDELL (0-6), 7:30 p.m.
The Indians play a non-conference game against a winless Raiders team in Olin tonight.
St. Stephens’ running game has been developing well – Zak McLauchlin and Matthew Hancock each had more than 100 yards last Friday in a home win over McDowell – and the Indians have been able to throw the ball all season.
A win would match last season’s win total for St. Stephens and help get the Indians in position to make a run at only their second winning record in 11 seasons (they were 7-6 in 2015).