Harding High’s football team won 10 games this year. That’s as many as the Rams had won in the four seasons before this one.
Harding (10-1), which has won six straight games, got the No. 1 overall seed in the N.C. 4A playoffs that begin Friday. It will get a bye in Round 1 and play either Porter Ridge (7-4) or Davie County (5-6) in a second-round game, at Harding, on Nov. 18.
The Rams are three wins away from reaching their first N.C. 4A state championship game since 1987.
“It feels good,” said Harding coach Sam Greiner. “We believed in ourselves from Day One, that we could be as good as we are right now, and our kids are really hungry to keep moving forward. They’re not satisfied yet.”
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Harding hasn’t had 10 wins since 1988, and the Rams, who were 6-0 this season in the SoMeck conference, haven’t had an unbeaten conference season like that since 1987, when the Rams played Garner for the state title at Memorial Stadium.
This year’s team has several Division I recruits including junior running back Quavaris Crouch, ranked by several scouting services as a top 20 overall national recruit and the nation’s No. 1 running back in the class of 2019. Crouch has rushed for more than 2,300 yards and 24 touchdowns, Greiner said.
“We’re really excited about all this,” Greiner said. “I really want for the Harding alumni to support these home games. We’ve planted some rye grass and grown it for four weeks because we expected to play at home (in the playoffs) for a while. It came out good and hopefully we can play on our turf for a few games. We’ve got some good competition between Davie County and Porter Ridge. Both are good programs.
“But we’ve got goals at hand. I feel like we’re built for the winter and we’re ready to march on.”
▪ Mallard Creek earned the No. 1 overall seed in the 4AA West and will play at home throughout the playoffs. The Mavericks got a first-round bye in their quest for a fourth state finals appearance in five seasons. Mallard Creek will face either Richmond Senior (7-4) or North Mecklenburg (8-3) in a second-round matchup.
▪ Charlotte Catholic, which reached the N.C. 4A semifinals last season, essentially is dropping two classes for the playoffs. The Cougars will play in the 3A division, beginning with a home game against West Caldwell (6-5) next week. There are no teams on Catholic’s side of the draw ranked in the most recent Associated Press 3A top 10 statewide poll.
▪ In 2AA, South Point (11-0), the state’s top ranked 2A team, beat No. 2 Shelby (9-2) Friday. The two teams may be headed for a rematch in the second round. South Point hosts West Iredell (5-6). Shelby, a four-time state champ, hosts Newton-Conover (9-2). If the Red Raiders and Golden Lions win, they’ll play in Belmont in Round 2.
▪ In the 4A West, 1-10 South Caldwell made the playoffs and earned a No. 2 overall seed and a bye. South Caldwell is in a conference, the Northwestern 3A/4A, with only two 4A teams in it. So either South Caldwell or McDowell (2-9) was going to get the conference’s automatic No. 1 4A seed and playoff berth. South Caldwell, which beat McDowell 46-27 Oct. 6, will play either Hickory Ridge (9-2) or West Charlotte (5-6) in the second round in two weeks.
“Nobody likes split conferences,” said NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker, “and if we could avoid them we would. When you only have two 4A schools in that area, they had to pair with those 3A schools. The decision ... made by our board was that whichever team finished in the first half of the split would get the No. 1 seed and (playoff) berth.”
South Caldwell got the No. 2 overall seed in the West after the NCHSAA used MaxPreps’ rankings. It was seeded ahead of Winston-Salem Glenn (10-1) and West Mecklenburg (8-3). Tucker said the NCHSAA will review the MaxPreps method at its December meeting, but didn’t expect a change.
“Historically speaking,” she said, “our board has tried to not change every year because what guarantee is there that if we get a new proposed ranking system that it will work and everyone will like it?”