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Preview: 2023 NCHSAA 3A football championship goes into third round of play


Seventy-First and Terry Sanford continue their respective quests for the NCHSAA 3A football championship tonight as they advance into the third round of play.

Here’s a capsule look at both games.

(7) Wilson Fike (9-3) at (2) Seventy-First (12-0)

Duran McLaurin said he often discusses the tradition of Seventy-First football with his Falcon players. Even when it’s not talked about, there is visible evidence on the Falcon football field in the form of signs recognizing the school’s state titles hanging on the surrounding fence.

McLaurin fully believes in the often-quoted line, “Tradition never graduates.’’

“Kids move on,’’ he said. “But if you’ve got a good JV program and you’ve got good freshmen coming in, doing the same things, practicing and working on the same things that made you successful, you continue in that tradition. You continue that level of excellence.’’

Players like quarterback DeAndre Nance have helped Seventy-First maintain that level of success. In last week’s win over Burlington Williams, Nance rushed 20 times for 204 yards and four touchdowns. On defense, he had a pass interception in the closing minutes to help thwart a Williams comeback attempt.

Like his coach, Nance is aware of the history and likes looking at the fence, but he also remembers last year when the Falcons fell short against Northern Nash and lost their chance to play for the title.

This season, he said it’s all about accountability. “You’ve got to hold your teammates accountable for you to win,’’ he said. “If you hold each other accountable, you should be able to be on top.’’

McLaurin added that a good football season at Seventy-First is different from what other schools might consider a good year.

“That’s the expectation and pressure that comes with being a coach and player here,’’ he said. “Our true mettle is measured by what we do in the postseason. There are a lot of good teams out there.’’

One of them is Wilson Fike, another school like Seventy-First with a rich tradition. Back in the late 1960s, Fike was the 4-A program in North Carolina, led by future East Carolina star Carlester Crumpler.

“Their tradition matters as much as ours,’’ McLaurin said. “We prepare for that.’’

Bud Woodward is Fike’s top offensive weapon, rushing 167 times for 1,220 yards and nine touchdowns. “He does an exceptional job of getting outside and using his blockers well.’’

McLaurin said the play of Nance and the rest of the offense will be critical in allowing Seventy-First to best Fike.

He added Nance is doing an excellent job of recognizing things on the field and putting Seventy-First in a good position to be successful. “We don’t waste any plays,’’ McLaurin said. “He’s a major part of that.’’

(27) Terry Sanford (8-4) at (3) Southern Alamance (11-1)

As the highest seed left in the state playoffs, and having yet had the chance to play a home state playoff game, Bulldog head coach Bruce McClelland says his players have adopted their own identity.

He calls them the Road Dogs. “When we lost 23 seniors, everybody counted us out,’’ McClelland said. “They don’t know we’ve still got enough to play with anybody in the state.’’

While the Bulldogs may be short in some areas, one place they have never been lacking this season is at the skill positions, and versatile players like Kamal Thames are a major reason for that.

Thames is one of those players who rarely comes off the field on a Friday night. He plays offense, defense, and special teams and was selected to play in December’s East-West All-Star football game at Grimsley High School’s Jamieson Stadium in Greensboro.

Last week’s win over Harnett Central, a team the Bulldogs lost to during the regular season, was a classic example of the resilience and refusal to quit in this year’s team.

“We knew we messed up the first time we played them,’’ Thames said. “When we went back and looked at the first film, we saw all the open holes and spots where they hit.’’

Another big difference from that first game was McClelland was on the sideline after having been suspended for the previous game for being ejected against Pine Forest.

“He’s a piece of the puzzle missing when he’s not there,’’ Thames said. “Coach Mac gives us that extra boost of energy.’’

Tonight against Southern Alamance, the Bulldogs will need an extra boost against a bigger, more physical opponent. “I’m going to have to be physical,’’ Thames said. “All night they are going to try and run it down us. We have to make the plays.’’

McClelland said the Bulldogs will also have to make lineup adjustments to deal with Southern’s size.

“We are going to have to take an athlete off the field and put a bigger body on there because they run so much,’’ McClelland said. “They’ve got a heavy lineup.’’

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