You’ve been warned.
With the disclaimer out of the way and breaking it down via conference, here’s how the Heartland Publications’ team of Shawn Stinson — sports editor of the Richmond Daily Journal — and Brad Crawford — staff writer at The Robesonian — see things shaking out across the local gridiron landscape starting in the 4A Southeastern
Richmond and Scotland have all but locked in the league’s top two seeds with the victor of next week’s head-to-head battle securing the league championship outright barring upsets on Friday. The two rivals will likely be placed in different pods based on how the NCHSAA has placed teams in recent seasons.
Historically, Scotland stays in the East and Richmond heads West.
Last season, Scotland was the largest 4A level school in the postseason. The Scots ran the table in the “smaller” 4A bracket while Hoke County was the “smallest” 4AA program. Each fall, 64 teams make the playoffs at the 4A level with the programs being split down the middle based on ADM into the 4AA and 4A brackets.
Conference champions are seeded higher than teams that finish second even if that second-place team has a more impressive record.
To avoid much travel, Pinecrest and Hoke County could join their SEC brethren in the same pod if the Raiders are put in the Mideast. If not, SEC teams could be split into different pods, much like last season’s playoffs. The Patriots (5-4, 2-1) and Bucks (7-2, 1-2) are currently third and fourth, respectively, in the standings and are both postseason locks. The friendly rivals square off next week in a regular-season finale in Southern Pines that will likely determine the SEC’s third-best team.
Things get tricky in Lumberton’s case. At 4-4 overall and winless in SEC play, the Pirates need another win. Last season, all six teams from what was perceived as the state’s most competitive conference received playoff invites because each squad met at least one of the NCHSAA’s playoff criteria — five wins to qualify or finish in the top four of your league (based on a six-team league).
This season, however, the Pirates are one victory short of meeting the win-total needed to be in the conversation for a wild-card berth. Theoretically, Purnell Swett (2-6, 0-3) still has a postseason shot if it wins its next two games (at Hoke, at Lumberton) to finish 2-3 in conference play, and the Bucks lose their next two. That seems unlikely.
The rest of Robeson County’s football teams, each members of the Three Rivers Conference, are on better footing.
Being a 2A program in a split-classification conference, St. Pauls will receive the top 2A seed — with eight possible wins — and is likely staring at a home game in the 4/5 matchup in the brutal 2AA Mideast pod.
With two more victories, Red Springs is locked into a No. 2 seed in the 1AA Mideast like last season with probable home games the first two rounds. South Robeson is back in for the first time since 2009 as a wild-card, but the opponent is harder to predict. The NCHSAA will likely keep the Mustangs in the 1A Mideast pod. At the smallest classification, numerous wild-card are chosen, even with sub .500 records.
If South Robeson enters the postseason at 3-7, the Mustangs could receive a No. 6, No. 7 or No. 8 seed. Each would result in a first-round road game. Splitting — or winning — the next two games (at Red Springs, East Columbus) would throw a wrench in the seeding process.
Here are our projected first-round playoff matchups for members of the SEC and Three Rivers using last year’s Average Daily Membership (ADM) as a guide. The NCHSAA’s ADM numbers for this year’s postseason should be released within the next few days and are used in determining where a school fits according to size.
According to our projections, the Mideast is the weakest 4AA pod since the Midwest will be top-heavy with unbeatens Butler, Richmond and East Forsyth. Scotland has a chance to be the largest school in the “small” 4A or smallest school in the “bigger” 4AA. We have the Scots as the first team in the small 4A, similar to last season’s draw.
In the smaller school ranks, St. Pauls is projected to have a treacherous slate in the stacked 2AA Mideast with a playoff opener at home against nine-win Franklinton.
No. 7 West Forsyth (5-5) at No. 2 Richmond (10-0, 1st SEC)
No. 6 Pinecrest (6-5) at No. 3 East Forsyth (10-0)
No. 5 Fuquay-Varina (6-4) at No. 4 Hoke County (8-3)
No. 8 Lumberton (5-5, wild-card) at No. 1 Middle Creek (10-0)
No. 6 Pine Forest (7-3) at No. 3 Scotland (8-2, 2nd SEC)
No. 5 Franklinton (9-2) at No. 4 St. Pauls (8-3)
No. 7 Pender (4-6) at No. 2 Red Springs (8-3, 1st Three Rivers)
No. 6 South Robeson (3-7) at No. 3 Lakewood (8-2)
Richmond Daily Journal sports editor Shawn Stinson contributed to this report.